The latest significant crop of primary election contests Tuesday night is poised to be another big win for the Republican establishment in its ongoing struggle against Tea Party grassroots insurgents.
In two key Senate races in Kentucky and Georgia, the preferred candidates of the mainstream GOP are set to advance, putting the party in better position to retake control of the U.S. Senate.
In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks set to trounce Tea Party favourite Matt Bevin, perhaps by upwards of 20 points. And in Georgia, the race’s two most flamboyant, conservative Republicans, Reps. Paul Broun or Phil Gingrey, have faded in recent weeks. The latest polling suggests neither Broun or Gingrey will advance past the candidates favoured by the establishment.
Outside groups have poured in millions on behalf of conservatives in the Kentucky and Georgia races. But these candidates never latched on with the broader Republican electorate.
“I think Bevin made the mistake a lot of candidates make. He didn’t define himself early,” Erick Erickson, the editor of RedState and a supporter of Bevin, told Business Insider in an email.
“McConnell has popularity below 50% in Kentucky. Bevin needed to make the case why he’s a good person and viable alternative. He didn’t even start until well after the McConnell campaign had defined him and even then mostly stuck to an anti-McConnell message instead of a pro-Bevin message.”
And now, after these bruising intra-party fights, Democrats’ two best pickup opportunities on GOP Senate seats will be in Kentucky and Georgia. McConnell’s expected win sets up a highly-anticipated heavyweight matchup between him and Democratic Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.
In Georgia, businessman David Perdue, U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston and former Secretary of State Karen Handel are fighting for the top-two spots in a post-primary runoff. (A runoff is required if no candidate receives 50% of the vote, and no candidate in Georgia has polled above 30% lately.) One of them will face Democrat Michelle Nunn. Many observers say Republicans will fare far better against Nunn with Perdue or Handel than they would have with the conservative hopefuls, Broun and Gingrey, who have been known to make mistakes.
And along with the expected Senate losses, conservative groups could be completely shut out of the win column Tuesday night in two high-profile House races in Idaho and Pennsylvania.
The grassroots group Club for Growth made Idaho’s Second District a focal point, and as a result, it has been dubbed “ground zero” for the grassroots vs. establishment fight. Club for Growth spent more than $US700,000 in that race for ads blasting U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and supporting his intra-party challenger, local attorney Bryan Smith.
Simpson was backed, however, by the quintessential GOP establishment group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has already found a high rate of success with its preferred candidates. He also received a late endorsement from former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And in the last month, the Club for Growth has gone silent. It hasn’t bought an ad in the race since April 22. A Club for Growth spokesman did not respond to a request for comment as to why, but others have interpreted it as a sign of concession.
These expected defeats for the conservative grassroots come on the heels of Tea Party favourite Greg Brannon’s loss to establishment-friendly North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis in a Senate primary in the Tar Heel State earlier this month.
The mounting evidence these grassroots insurgencies are not catching on with voters and potentially help vulnerable Democrats survive has led some conservatives to suggest a new strategy — abandoning the Tea Party revolution and backing establishment candidates.
One top Republican strategist told Business Insider the money grassroots groups spent in Georgia and Kentucky could have been put to far better use in other states.
“It stands to reason that the millions of dollars spent waging this primary challenge could have been better utilized elsewhere if the goal is building a conservative Senate majority,” the strategist said. “Imagine the difference if millions had been spent say, supporting Tom Cotton in Arkansas, or Cory Gardner in Colorado, or Steve Daines in Montana.”
For his part, Erickson, though he’s a staunch grassroots supporter, plans to move past the intra-party squabbling. Before the polls closed Tuesday, Erickson touted his donation to the McConnell campaign on Twitter:
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