where a moderate Republican, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, announced her bid for
a 2014 Senate seat.
Within hours, conservative organizations attacked the candidate.
"Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork and bigger government," wrote Club for Growth president Chris Chocola. "That's not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races."
It isn't known if West Virginians will promote a conservative alternative to Capito, who enjoys some support from party moderates. But there's no guarantee she will defeat a Democratic opponent even if she gets mainstream help and avoids a primary.
"Ultimately, we're left with a democracy," said Patrick Tuohey, who helped organize Sarah Steelman's unsuccessful primary fight against Akin. "We don't want kind of an oligarchy (picking candidates)."
Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas will step into the middle of the dispute in 2013 as the newly elected head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the main committee for helping Senate nominees. The group raised more than $100 million in the last election cycle to help GOP candidates in the general election.
Moran's office declined several requests for an interview, referring The Star to national publications instead. He recently told The Associated Press it will take a couple of months to determine the committee's role in primaries, on a state-by-state basis.
Already, though, the pitfalls of Moran's new post are evident. Last week he said he was "encouraged" by Capito's candidacy in a statement on Facebook and Twitter, then pulled his comments off the websites just six minutes later, according to the Sunlight Foundation's Politwoops blog.
Other Republicans said the problem isn't limited to candidates. The primary process itself, they say, sometimes sets the stage for general election headaches.
Activists who vote on single issues like abortion and immigration can dominate primaries, favoring candidates who take more aggressive positions. Some Republicans believe the presidential primary season pushed presidential nominee Mitt Romney into statements that hurt him against Barack Obama in the fall.
Primaries also often mean a circular firing squad.
In 2004, Claire McCaskill, then the state auditor, defeated Gov. Bob Holden in the Democratic primary -- after sharply criticizing him. Those attacks left his supporters angry enough to stay home that November, costing her critical votes in her loss to Matt Blunt, whose father is Roy Blunt.
"Do some candidates ... say things that are not helpful? Yes," said John Hancock, a longtime Republican consultant in Missouri. "You end up wearing your dirty clothes into the general election."
And primaries can be costly. Combined, Missouri's three GOP Senate candidates -- Akin, Steelman and businessman John Brunner -- spent $13 million in the August primary.
That spending made it harder for Akin to find resources against McCaskill, who saved most of her cash for the November election. Outside groups also targeted Akin.
Primaries also present an opportunity for mischief.
Missouri Republicans still believe McCaskill's ads touting Akin as the "true conservative" before the August primary helped him defeat his GOP rivals.
There are suggestions for reform. Republican lawmakers in Missouri may consider a primary limited to registered party members in 2014, which would ban Democrats and independents from helping choose the GOP nominee. Kansas primaries are already closed.
And Hancock said the primary should be moved to an earlier date. An earlier primary would allow a nominee more time to raise money and recover from attacks from same-party rivals.
While party leadership might be unable to handpick a candidate, some expect earlier intervention in campaign finance decisions. GOP leaders, for example, could state publicly they won't financially support marginal candidates in a particular race.
"A consensus of leaders could say, 'This is our best candidate, right here,'" Hancock said. "We're going to tell everyone who's thinking about running, 'Joe is our best candidate, and we're going to get behind Joe publicly. We're going to help finance his campaign.'"
That plan, though, might backfire with primary voters, who might object to a leadership-backed candidate. And if an unfavored candidate survived the primary, party leaders would be locked in the awkward position of sitting out a crucial race -- exactly what happened with Akin's campaign. (The losing candidate sent out another request for money last week.)
Some party officials say picking candidates can work. Roy Blunt, they say, was able to clear the field before his 2010 Senate race largely through hard work, persuasion and early fundraising. Even with that advantage, Blunt faced a primary challenge from tea party favorite Chuck Purgason.
And Hancock thinks picking nominees is easier in down-ballot races like the state legislature.
In Kansas, for example, Gov. Sam Brownback's allies helped find candidates for important state House and Senate primaries.
But hardwiring a nominating process in dozens of races across the country will still be harder than winning the lottery, some Republicans said.
"There's nobody in either party that has the ability to say, 'You can run, and you can't,'" Hancock said. "That doesn't exist."
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