Furious Tea Party conservatives have marked Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) for political death over her willingness to compromise with Democrats to pass legislation.
The North Carolina Republican was swept into the U.S. Congress as part of the 2010 Tea Party wave, but anti-choice activists and other conservatives have spent $1.1 million to defeat Ellmers in a special primary election, reported NPR.
Ellmers is facing fellow Rep. George Holding and physician Greg Brannon, who’s twice run unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate, in a June 7 primary after Republican lawmakers redrew the state’s legislative districts, forcing the congressional representatives to face off against one another for a single seat.
Conservatives are angry at Ellmers for voting in favor of a budget deal that raised spending caps and for backing the Export-Import Bank because it would save jobs in her district.
Anti-choice activists have branded Ellmers a “pro-life traitor” for insisting on rape and incest exceptions in a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Ellmers, who came into office as one of Sarah Palin’s “mama grizzlies,” defended her legislative record from anti-government critics.
“I would love for [those bills] to be more conservative, but I’m also a common sense person,” Ellmers told NPR. “I’m a pragmatist, I want to get things done. I’m not going to go to Washington and vote no on everything because some outside special interest group says that’s the way that I should vote.”
The lawmaker insists she’s stayed true to her principles by advocating for smaller government and the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, and she boasts that she’s gotten seven bills signed into law — while her opponent, Holding, has done so only once since he was elected in 2012.
But many Republicans see that legislative success as a failure of conservative principles.
“She’s someone who got to Washington and realized she wanted to get things done, and that’s not a popular thing in the GOP,” said Steven Greene, a political science professor at North Carolina State University.
Conservative interest groups — such as the Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity — admit they’re targeting Ellmers to make an example of her to other Republicans who go to Washington and cooperate with other lawmakers to pass bills.
“This is also a warning shot for Washington,” said Donald Bryson, AFP’s state director in North Carolina. “Hey, we take corporate welfare very seriously. Conservatives get a knock very often that we’re too easy on corporations.”
But Greene, the political scientist, said Ellmers should be seen as the underdog — and he said a loss by her could lead to even more polarization in Congress if Republicans become even more unwilling to anger conservative voters by compromising to pass legislation.
“When you take compromise off the table, that’s not good for American democracy,” Greene said.