Don’t forget Kay!

Salon looks at recent GOP history to preview the 2012 Senate primaries:

As it is, though, the Tea Party is out of Republican targets for 2010. But 2012 is just around the corner, and the Tea Party may pick up right where it left off when the next round of Senate primaries convenes..

This, at least, is what history suggests. The last time there was this much upheaval within the GOP was in the late 1970s, in the wake of Ronald Reagan’s challenge to President Gerald Ford in the 1976 primaries. While Reagan fell just inches short in that race, the writing was on the wall: The GOP’s demographics were changing and the conservative wing that Reagan represented would soon dominate; Ford’s win would be the Rockefeller crowd’s last stand.

After ’76, New Right activists set out to purge the remaining liberal Republicans from the party — a task that only took on more urgency when liberal Republican senators provided critical votes for Jimmy Carter’s Panama Canal treaty in 1977. To the right, this represented a blatant sellout of American sovereignty. In the 1978 midterms, the right organized several high-profile primary challenges. In New Jersey, they united behind a Reagan aide named Jeffrey Bell and took out an icon of liberal Republicanism, four-term Sen. Clifford Case. In Massachusetts, they rallied around a radio talk-show host and anti-busing crusader named Avi Nelson and nearly knocked off Sen. Ed Brooke, the only black Republican ever elected to the Senate. There was no collective name for the movement that did this, but in spirit and style, it was very much the Tea Party’s precursor.

And the movement didn’t stop in ’78 — not with Reagan running again in 1980, and not with liberal Republicans still roaming the halls of Congress. Down went Sen. Jacob Javits, Herbert Lehman’s literal and ideological Senate heir, in New York’s ’80 GOP primary, felled by a then-obscure Al D’Amato. Only after Reagan’s election did the purge mentality cease.

If that model holds, the Tea Party will be just as thirsty for GOP blood in ’12 as it is today — still enraged by TARP votes the way the New Right was still infuriated by the Panama Canal treaty in ’80.

Because only 10 GOP-held Senate seats will be up in ’12 — a consequence of the party’s drubbing in 2006 and weak showing in 2000 — only three incumbents seem at obvious risk of becoming the next Bennett or Murkowski: Olympia Snowe, Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar.

You know who else is up in 2012? Our own Kay Bailey Hutchison, that’s who. And there’s already trouble on the horizon for her.

It’s not that Texas Republicans don’t like her. Despite her primary loss earlier this year she still has a positive 56/28 approval spread with them. It’s not even necessarily that they think she’s too liberal- 38% of them do, but 44% think that ideologically she’s ‘about right.’

But if you give them the choice of a more conservative alternative to Hutchison Texas Republicans are ready to ditch her in a minute. Only 25% of them generally say they’d vote for Hutchison if she faced a challenger from the right, while 62% say they’d pick the insurgent option.

PPP tested a hypothetical matchup between KBH and Railroad Commissioner Michael Williams, and while she led him by 21 points, she only garnered 34%. That doesn’t sound too secure to me. And that’s just one possible opponent for her. Anyone want to bet against Dan Patrick deciding he wants to trade up? You can write her obituary now if that happens.

Now maybe they overlooked KBH because they think she’s not running again in 2012. Clearly, they need to ask around a bit if that’s what they thought. She has time to try to mode to the right, though I doubt it would help. It’ll be interesting to see what she does. Who knows, maybe this time she really will step down. Stranger things have happened.

And since we can’t reasonably claim we didn’t see this coming, it’s not too early for Democrats to start thinking about who we’d like to have on the ballot that year. There are the candidates who are running statewide this year, all of whom I hope are unavailable due to incumbency, and there are the mandatory possibilities, but if I had to name my first round draft choice for this race, it’d be San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro. You got a better choice? Go ahead and leave it in the comments.

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