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Why Didn't Liz Cheney Run For The Senate In Virginia?

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LIZ CHENEY SENATE VIRGINIA
In this Feb. 18, 2010, file photo, Liz Cheney addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington. Cheney announced Tuesday, July 16, 2013, she will run against Wyoming's senior U.S. senator Mike Enzi in next year's Republican primary. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File) | AP

Over at the National Journal, Alex Roarty reports that "Republican officials are grumbling" over Liz Cheney's decision to troop on out to Wyoming and primary the reliably conservative Sen. Mike Enzi, as opposed to staying in Virginia to compete against the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Mark Warner. To their mind, Cheney is being unnecessarily divisive, while leaving Republicans without a suitable challenger for Warner.

As Roarty notes, up until the moment that Cheney decided that she wanted Enzi's seat, she was best known as someone who'd lived her life in the Old Dominion, where a majority of Wyoming residents, "according to one automated poll," believe she should remain. He goes on to report that the folks over at the National Republican Senatorial Committee "say they never spoke with her about a campaign there (or anywhere else)."

Still, a party that insists it plans to take the fight to Democratic senators in swing states such as Virginia is left wondering if it can find a credible candidate to carry its banner next year.

"I think it's unfortunate that millions of dollars in Republican donor money are going to be spent in a divisive Republican primary in a Republican state," said Brian Walsh, a GOP strategist and former communications director at the National Republican Senatorial Committee. "It certainly would be far more beneficial to have that money be used against holding Mark Warner accountable.”

Well, in the first place, if the GOP "is left wondering if it can find a credible candidate to carry its banner," then I'm sort of left wondering why that's somehow Liz Cheney's responsibility. I was led to believe -- from the preceding paragraphs, after all -- that there is this thing called the "National Republican Senatorial Committee." Maybe they should get on that whole "all we have to run in Virginia is a sack of bricks" problem that they apparently have.

But more to the point, I think that if we sift down into the question as to why Cheney is passing on a tidy R-versus-D opportunity in Virginia in order to stage a primary against Enzi -- which former Wyoming Republican Sen. Alan Simpson has called "a divisive, ugly situation" that would cause "the destruction of the Republican Party of Wyoming" -- the answer we're left with is that a "divisive, ugly situation" is precisely what Cheney wants.

Reason's Mike Riggs has offered this take, which bears repeating:

As long as we're spitballing, what if Cheney is primarying Enzi because he's too willing to work with Sen. Rand Paul?

Here's a Politico headline from last week: "Rand Paul: I've got Mike Enzi's back vs. Liz Cheney." Paul told the publication that Enzi's "a good conservative," and that the two are friends. While that might come as a surprise to anyone who witnessed Paul's blitzkrieg against the Marketplace Fairness Act (which Enzi introduced), it makes plenty of sense if you go back to March 6 of this year, when Paul filibustered for 13 hours to block the confirmation of CIA Director John Brennan. Among Paul's supporters that night was Enzi.

Basically, we shouldn't discount that what Cheney might be after is to restore the wing of the GOP from which she's emerged (and perhaps her father's legacy), against the recent ministrations of Paul and his similarly minded colleagues. This internecine rivalry is already expanding well beyond the Wyoming Senate race: You can see it at work in the war of words currently going on between Paul and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. I think it's safe to say that this is a "thing" right now, insofar as we can deduce political trends so far ahead of both the upcoming midterm and presidential elections.

Of course, as Roarty points out, Cheney's Senate bid currently faces very long odds, and what polling we've seen suggests Enzi is a strong favorite. "The Republican automated polling firm Harper Polling," Roarty notes, "found the incumbent leading Cheney 55 percent to 21 percent."

To my mind, the model for overcoming this sort of disadvantage when there's no obvious way to differentiate the two competitors ideologically, is for the underdog to mount a well-funded, vicious, scorched-earth campaign that borders on being unfair and perhaps irresponsible in its fearmongering.

Hmmm. Maybe Liz Cheney would be up for something like that.

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