Republican infighting intensifies as Tea Party notches wins

Bruising Republican primary battles, many involving Tea Party candidates, have led to intense Republican infighting that has left GOP officials worried they could end up squandering big opportunities to pick up seats in the House, Senate and governor's mansions in November.

The GOP's worries were fully articulated in a plea from New Hampshire Republican Party Chairman John Sununu, who wrote an op-ed piece in Granite State papers pleading with GOP candidates to curb the negative attacks on each other. It ran under the headline, “Republican Fratricide Makes Winning Easier for Democrats.”

In Alaska, Republicans may knock each other out on the November ballot and allow a Democrat to win the U.S. Senate seat held by the GOP for nearly three decades. Incumbent Lisa Murkowski trails GOP challenger Joe Miller by 2,000 votes and has not ruled out running as a third-party candidate if she is not the victor after state officials count absentee votes on Tuesday. A general election ballot with three candidates would split the Republican vote and make it easier for Democrats to win if they field a strong enough candidate.

“It could be a real mess,” Alaskan GOP pollster Marc Hellenthal said. “It comes down to whether one of them agrees to step aside if they don't win.”

Miller, who is backed by Sarah Palin, accused the GOP Senate campaign arm of “meddling” in the unfinished primary after sending a lawyer to assist Murkowski.

The GOP is also fighting among themselves in Florida. Republican state Attorney General Bill McCollum has refused to endorse Rick Scott, who beat McCollum in the Republican gubernatorial primary on Tuesday.

Scott was backed by the Tea Party movement and funded his campaign with $39 million of his own money, much of it spent on attack ads against McCollum. McCollum told Florida media outlets on Friday that he questions Scott's integrity. State GOP officials, who endorsed McCollum, have yet to rally around their newly minted nominee, who as a health care CEO incurred a $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud.

Like Miller, Scott ran to the right of the GOP establishment candidate, a trend seen in many other GOP races this primary season. Democrats say this could lead to a major fissure within the party.

“I think there is as much a chance of a Republican civil war that breaks into a splinter party as there is for a so-called Republican renaissance,” Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis said.

Sununu, the former New Hampshire governor, disagreed, telling The Washington Examiner GOP primary ballots have long included moderate and conservative candidates without splitting the party. But he has nonetheless urged Republican candidates running in the New Hampshire's Senate primary, including a candidate backed by Palin, to refrain from attacking each other.

“Negativity sometimes comes back to bite the results at the ballot box of the person who put out the negative ad,” Sununu said he told the candidates.

Republican pollster Whit Ayers said Republicans will not blow the chance of winning big in November by sniping at each other.

“Republicans smell victory and they know if we don't screw it up, we are going to have an incredibly good year and that will be enough to submerge most intraparty disputes,” Ayers said. “At least until after the elections.”

sferrechio@washingtonexaminer.com

Bay Area NewsGovernment & PoliticsPoliticsSusan FerrechioWashington

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