Conservative activist Karen Testerman announced Friday that she is dropping out of the U.S. Senate race in New Hampshire and endorsing former Sen. Bob Smith in an effort to give conservative, tea party voters one candidate to get behind.
The move comes just days after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's surprising loss in Tuesday's Virginia GOP primary to tea party challenger David Brat.
Is a similar upset possible in New Hampshire, where Scott Brown is seen as the prohibitive front-runner for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate? New Hampshire political observers say it's unlikely, especially given that there are still three Republican candidates in the race in Brown, Smith and Jim Rubens.
"It really does feel to me like the narrative of Brown as the most viable nominee seems to be pretty hard wired," Southern New Hampshire University political scientist Dean Spiliotes said. "That said, I think there is some concern among conservative activists in the party about Brown."
The fact that Smith and Rubens are likely to split the conservative vote makes it hard to envision a scenario in which Brown loses in the primary, University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala said.
"Everything else being equal, I think it's better for a challenger to have a one-on-one shot against the frontrunner," Scala said. "When there are multiple challenges to the frontrunner, that anti-frontrunner vote is going to be divided two different ways."
Scala said he is skeptical that what happened to Cantor has big national implications that extend up to New Hampshire.
"Everyone and their uncle is trying to draw out implications about Cantor that will resound to their benefit," he said. "Every primary challenger is out there trying to say, 'I could do this too.' I think there were a number of local, unique factors in that race, one of which was Cantor was a guy with his eye on the speakership. He took his eye off the ball back home."
The Brown race is different, Scala said.
"Does Brown have vulnerabilities, including his position on guns? Yeah, he does, but so far he seems to be trying to counteract the carpetbagging charge by running a campaign heavy on retail politics," he said. "It's a different situation than what Cantor had."
"It certainly is possible, if they had somebody other than Bob Smith as the go-to conservative," he said. "I think there's an opportunity, but he's not the person to really drive that opportunity, which I think is the limiting factor here. Rubens is kind of a mixed bag. Certainly on climate change and other issues he's not considered a conservative."
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