Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District was supposed to be a proxy battle to set the tone for the establishment vs. grassroots Republican fight of the 2014 midterm elections.
In the end, it hardly ended up being a battle — like many of the intra-party fights across the country.
Incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, who was running for a ninth term, crushed his Tea Party-aligned challenger, local attorney Bryan Smith. Simpson garnered almost 62% of the vote to Smith’s 38.3%.
The race was a costly one in which groups backing both candidates spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in the last few weeks leading up to the Idaho primary, the Club for Growth — the major group backing Smith — quietly shifted resources away from Idaho and into the Nebraska Senate race.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has already had success backing a number of establishment candidates, kept pouring into the race on Simpson’s behalf. Over the last month, it ran an ad in Idaho featuring the endorsement of former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
“This race was a top priority for the Chamber to engage early and locally to support Simpson and highlight his record,” said Rob Engstrom, the senior vice president and national political director of the Chamber. “We will continue to stand with him.”
Across the rest of the country, the story was the same. In three key Republican battles to determine the party’s Senate nominees, establishment-aligned candidates prevailed:
- Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made quick work of Matt Bevin in Kentucky, grabbing about 60% of the Republican vote.
- In Georgia, businessman David Perdue and the Chamber-backed U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston advanced to a GOP runoff. U.S. Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, the race’s two most flamboyant, conservative Republicans, didn’t come close. Not even the Sarah Palin-backed Karen Handel made the runoff.
- In Oregon, despite a late-breaking scandal that made national headlines over the final few days of the race, neurosurgeon Monica Wehby dispatched of conservative challenger and state Rep. Jason Conger, 50.7-37.1.
Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz argued Tuesday night that the results were not indicative of the Tea Party’s decline. Rather, she said they proved conservative challengers had successfully pushed the party to the right.
“Even the candidates purportedly backed by the establishment have been pulled so far to the right that it is a distinction without a difference. The civil war in the Republican Party is over and the Tea Party won,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.
But in each primary, the GOP’s general-election chances improved — including a win for the establishment in North Carolina two weeks ago. Thus far, the party has avoided nominating any of the “Todd Akin 2.0” candidates insiders feared would hamper their chances at retaking control of the Senate. They need to swing six seats to do so, a goal that looks increasingly attainable.
For Democrats, it might be time to panic.
“Election results last night were pretty much as expected — the GOP has crushed the Tea Party, and the Democrats can no longer count on running against right wing ‘exotics,'” said Greg Valliere, the chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group.
The party establishment wasn’t shy in gloating about its big win Tuesday night. Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who faced a disastrous primary challenge earlier this year, tweeted back at an online activist who said the conservative movement’s “only mistake” was not running grassroots Republican Katrina Pierson against Cornyn:
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.