Social Conservative Push to Head Off GOP Primary Challengers?

The surge in social conservative legislation dealing with sex, religion and guns, reports Chas Sisk, gives Republican lawmakers a chance to show where they stand and could help them head off the biggest challenge they face to re-election this year — a primary opponent who accuses them of having done too little to advance conservative causes.
The pace of socially conservative bills has accelerated, as a deadline approaches for candidates to declare their candidacy this fall. Democrats are using the attention paid to those issues as a chance to attack Republicans as being more concerned with policing morality than managing the state’s economy.
“They’re preoccupied with sex up here,” Nashville Rep. Mike Turner, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said last week. “We’re about ready to put the turbans on and put the women in burkas, if we keep going at this rate.”
But Republicans are more likely to face a political reward than pay a price for their stances. Newly redrawn district maps mean most of them are safe from Democratic challengers, and they probably will be able to ride the coattails of U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and the Republican presidential nominee at the top of the November ticket.
…For many Republicans, the biggest threat they face is the emergence of a primary opponent who attacks them for not being conservative enough. Republican lawmakers who can cinch the nomination in August face few obstacles to another term in November.
The deadline to enter the primary is April 5, and it may be no accident that legislators have turned to social issues at the same time they — and their potential opponents — are gathering signatures to appear on the ballot in the fall.
…Democrats have tried to capitalize on social issues by portraying themselves as the party of moderation.
“We’re making national news on all these crazy things. It’s just not good for the state of Tennessee,” said Turner, the Democratic Caucus chairman. “The social conservatives have control of the Republican Party. The conservative party used to be the party of the establishment. They’ve now become the anti-establishment party.
“It seems like they’re against everything, but when you win elections you have to stop playing politics. … They’re not governing.”
Republicans bristle at such comments. In the same week lawmakers debated abortion, evolution and sex education, they noted that they also worked out a plan to abolish the state’s estate tax by 2016, which they say will create jobs by encouraging wealthy retirees to remain in the state.
The House also advanced a Haslam administration bill to expand the state’s incentives for job creation, and they proceeded with legislation sought by business that calls for random audits of unemployment claims to make sure people are still looking for work. That bill also would bar inmates and people who fail a workplace drug test from receiving unemployment benefits.
“They’re not a distraction to me,” Harwell said of social issue legislation.

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