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.
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.
Primary date August 6.
Outlook Although Mr. Upton will probably prevail, history teaches that he'll have to run hard: He first got to Washington by upsetting a Republican incumbent in the 1986 primary.
Congressional district 1 Even Sydney Hay wouldn't characterize her opponents as liberals. The problem, she complains, is that they are simply running on their biographies (or wealth) rather than on the issues. No one could accuse Mrs. Hay of avoiding the issues. Her campaign brochure is a virtual manifesto of conservative orthodoxy: pro-life, anti-tax, strong military, school choice. She started her career with Concerned Women for America, so it's no wonder she's right on the social issues. But after 10 years as a business lobbyist, she also has credibility on the economic front, giving her a broader appeal that few candidates from the religious right can match. In a crowded primary field, her two main opponents appear to be a wealthy insurance executive with tenuous ties to the district and a county supervisor with a record of raising taxes. She thinks she can beat them all, and many national Republicans seem to agree. The Club for Growth, the Madison Project, the Susan B. Anthony List, the National Conservative Union, and others have already endorsed her.
Primary date September 10.
Outlook This is a new district that went for Bush by 12,000 votes in 2000. Unless she stumbles in a big way, Mrs. Hay should emerge not only as the primary winner, but as a high-profile conservative leader on the national stage.
Congressional district 5 After more than two decades in Congress, liberal Republican Marge Roukema is finally stepping down, and the race to replace her-like so many of this state's intra-party fights-is shaping up as a bare-knuckle brawl. The obvious successor would be Scott Garrett, a conservative state assemblyman who came within 2,000 votes of upending Ms. Roukema in the last primary. But, as they showed in Bret Schundler's gubernatorial bid, the pseudo-Republicans who run the state party aren't about to let a conservative skate to the nomination. The moderates' dog in this particular fight is David Russo, an assemblyman from populous Bergen County. At a recent county nominating convention, the country club set united behind Mr. Russo, setting up a classic liberal-vs.-conservative primary race. (Gerald Cardinale, a somewhat conservative state senator, is also in the race, despite an earlier promise to bow out if he lost the Bergen County convention.)
Primary date June 4.
Outlook Mr. Garrett has the organization and the name recognition to beat the lesser-known Mr. Russo. But come November, it's anybody's guess: The New Jersey GOP establishment has already shown it prefers a Democrat to a conservative Republican.
Senate Sen. Fred Thompson not only floored national GOP leaders when he announced his retirement last month, but he also threw his state party into disarray. Lamar Alexander, a former secretary of education and two-time presidential hopeful, quickly emerged as the choice of the party's power-brokers in Nashville. Rumors swirled that the powers-that-be in Washington also wanted a clear path for the moderate candidate. But conservatives, including Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, publicly warned the White House to stay out of this one. Rep. Ed Bryant, a conservative standard-bearer in the House, quickly announced his own candidacy, setting up a potentially divisive primary in this solidly Republican state.
Primary date August 1.
Outlook Mr. Alexander has statewide name recognition and a long list of wealthy donors. But Tennessee has been trending more conservative lately, and the former governor is a throwback to the milquetoasty days of Howard Baker. Mr. Bryant could pull off an upset, but only if he's willing to turn the campaign up a notch.