The GOP now wields "near-total political control" in the Deep South, though ideological divisions keep Republicans from enjoying a cohesive caucus, according to The New York Times.
Southern Republicans are being put to a "purity test," according to the Times, in primaries pitting tea party candidates against establishment members of the party.
Mississippi’s heated primary battle between incumbent GOP Sen. Thad Cochran, 76, and his tea party challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, 41, offers a snapshot of the civil war taking place throughout the region, the newspaper said.
McDaniel has hammered Cochran, who has held the seat for nearly four decades, for being too cooperative with Democrats and weak in challenging President Barack Obama, according to the Times.
"Mississippi is the most conservative state in the republic," McDaniel said Saturday at a rally, according to the Times. "It deserves the most conservative senator in the republic."
Should McDaniel beat Cochran, pundits say it could create an opening for a Democrat, bolstered by "a coalition of African-American Democrats and disaffected Cochran voters," to take the seat in the general election.
Anti-establishment Southern Republicans have caused South Carolina’s GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham heartburn, as well. Graham, who is running for re-election, has six challengers just in the June 10 Republican primary.
Last month, Charleston County, S.C., Republicans voted to censure Graham because "he’s not conservative enough," the Huffington Post
The censure document listed some 30 areas where Graham is lacking, such as supporting Obama’s Supreme Court nominees and, like Cochran, cooperating with Democrats.
The South’s "political realignment" has been taking shape for decades, but the dawn of the tea party has muddied the waters for Republicans. Establishment Republicans, especially the more senior members of Congress, are accustomed to reaching across the aisle. Those aligned with the tea party are unbending and believe remaining true to one’s conservative principles trumps all else.
"Southern Republican primaries have also become forums for what the party establishment sees as purity tests, and what the right believes are opportunities to hold leaders accountable for their fealty, or lack thereof, to conservative principles," according to the Times.
Republican strategists worry that party disunity "distracts from a bigger challenge to come: the shifting political allegiances caused by migration from other parts of the country and by immigrants."
North Carolina and Virginia have felt the effects of shifting demographics, and in Alabama, 27 legislators in the statehouse are embroiled in primaries, according to the Times.
"Our party is in a good spot in South Carolina and most parts of the South for about 10 years, but we need to build a party for the future, and the future is a more diverse South," Graham said, according to the Times.
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