Primary colors

Politics | If, as the saying goes, there's not a dime's worth of difference between the parties, there's at least a dollar's worth within them. Here's a look at five Republican primaries where conservatives and liberals are doing battle

Issue: "The trouble with Tommy," May 4, 2002

Arizona Republicans wouldn't even think about running to the right of Sydney Hay. The veteran political activist is staunchly pro-life, pioneered a successful school choice movement, and has almost never met a government regulation that she likes.

And then there's the matter of horse food. In a play on her name, Mrs. Hay appears in local parades sitting atop bales of hay in a cart with signs that read, "Get on the Hay Wagon." The problem is, it's not really a hay wagon at all: Because hay is expensive, the candidate fills her wagon with straw. "I'm a fiscal conservative," she explains with a laugh.

Not surprisingly, some local Republicans think Mrs. Hay is too conservative for her own good. Five other candidates are already contesting the GOP primary, and the filing deadline is still months away.

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In this race, as in others across the country, electability is likely to serve as a code word for too conservative, too ideological-even, in some cases, too Christian. But electability doesn't always work as a campaign issue, because voters in Republican primaries tend to come from the party's more conservative wing. Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan learned that the hard way. Running for the GOP nomination for governor against political neophyte Bill Simon, he ignored his own liberal record, stressing instead that he was the only candidate who could beat incumbent Gov. Gray Davis. White House political advisers may have been persuaded by that argument, but California GOP voters weren't: Mr. Simon won in a landslide upset.

While all eyes are on November, it's easy to forget that the ideology of the next Congress is at stake, as well as its control. If Republicans manage to retain the House and win back the Senate with more liberal candidates, the revolution begun in 1994 will be officially over.

With that in mind, here are five races worth watching, primary contests with a committed social conservative running against a more "moderate" field:


Congressional district 3 This is the one race where electability isn't even an issue. Mark Souder, a conservative champion with four terms in Congress under his belt, has already proven he can get elected. He ousted an incumbent Democrat in 1994 and has never come close to losing since then. Despite his proven vote-getting ability, however, he's being challenged on the left by Paul Helmke, the three-term mayor of Ft. Wayne, this district's largest city. A former mayor vs. a sitting congressman? It wouldn't be much of a race except that Indiana lost a congressional seat following the 2000 census, so Mr. Souder is running in what is essentially a new district. For thousands of voters in the two counties just added to this district, Mr. Souder is a new name on the ballot. But those same voters may already have voted for Mr. Helmke: In 1998, he unsuccessfully challenged Evan Bayh for a U.S. Senate seat, giving him enviable name recognition in the redrawn district. Mr. Helmke grumbles constantly that Mr. Souder is "too extreme" to represent the people of northeast Indiana (the very people, by the way, who sent extremists like Dan Quayle and Dan Coats to Congress). That's a message that shouldn't gain much traction in a GOP primary. But technically, this isn't a GOP primary. Indiana holds open primaries, meaning that voters of any persuasion can go to the polls for either party. Mr. Helmke is taking a page from John McCain's playbook, appealing to Democrats and independents to help him thwart the will of Republican voters. "There is a nationwide struggle for the soul of the Republican Party, and this race in Fort Wayne, Ind., is one skirmish in that big war," says Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth, which funds conservative candidates nationwide. "If Helmke can knock off Souder, you may see the kind of RINO [Republican in Name Only], liberal wing of the Republican Party emboldened."

Primary date May 7.

Outlook Mr. Souder should be able to pull this one out. But Democratic spoilers could make it a nail-biter.


Congressional district 6 Fred Upton was first elected to Congress in 1986-and he's been driving conservatives crazy ever since. The American Conservative Union ranks him near the bottom of Michigan's GOP delegation, thanks to recent votes such as his support for campaign finance reform and funding international family-planning agencies that promote abortion. Voters in his southwestern Michigan district are reliably conservative and heavily religious, yet the last time Mr. Upton faced a primary challenge from the right was in 1990. This time around, Dale Shugars, a 48-year-old state senator, promises to offer a clear ideological alternative. He relentlessly touts his 100 percent pro-life voting record, in contrast to Mr. Upton's off-again, on-again record. He has also been critical of the congressman's stance on taxes and gun control. Still, even Mr. Shugars's supporters concede he has an uphill battle. Unseating an incumbent is never easy, and with control of the House at stake, even conservatives may be unwilling to risk jumping off this particular horse in mid-stream.


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