With the scorecard reading "establishment 1, tea party 0," after this week’s GOP primary in North Carolina, pundits watching the next batch of contests see a cloudy future for insurgent Republicans trying to move the party to the right.
Thom Tillis, the North Carolina House Speaker, was the party's pick over tea party favorite Greg Brannon to take on a vulnerable incumbent, Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, this fall. And Tillis’s win on Tuesday was "unquestionably a major victory for the Republican establishment," according to Sean Sullivan of The Washington Post
"But it’s hardly a conclusive one," Sullivan wrote of the outcome. "The next eight weeks will tell us a lot more."
The tea party also faces an "uphill climb in a crowded Republican Senate Primary in Georgia," the Post reported
. The establishment candidate, Rep. Jack Kingston, has "the surprising air of a front runner," even as a quintessential Washington insider boasting 22 years in Congress.
A trio of candidates to Kingston's right — Rep. Paul Broun, Rep. Phil Gingrey and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel — are at risk of picking each other off, leaving Kingston or candidate David Perdue —son of a former Georgia governor — a potential path to an outright, run-off-free victory on May 20.
That same day, Kentuckians will decide whether to let Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell move on to seek another term in the fall, or rescue the wobbly candidacy of tea party choice Matt Bivens.
Tea partiers might like their chances better in two upcoming Senate primaries, Tuesday in Nebraska and June 3 in Mississippi.
Nebraska conservative Ben Sasse has high-profile endorsements from Sarah Palin and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and access to a pair of tea party war chests: the Club for Growth and the Senate Conservatives Fund. Both groups are also funding Mississippi State Sen. Chris McDaniel in his bid to oust incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran.
The underfunded Brannon in North Carolina had no such backing. But he finished second, with 29 percent to Tillis’s 40 percent. And Tillis has emerged from the primary facing questions about his own "electability"— the buzzword wielded by middle-of-the-road Republicans fending off ultra-conservative challengers.
"The GOP's internal divisions have pushed the whole Republican Party to the right," Lisa Mascaro wrote in the Los Angeles Times
, adding that it "remains to be seen how much Tillis is in the Republican mainstream."
"Hagan's team is recycling comments Tillis made about the need to 'divide and conquer' the poor," wrote Mascaro.
And some liberal pundits say Tillis, who has called Obamacare a "cancer," is plenty conservative enough to alienate moderate voters. The headline of a Talking Points Memo column on Tillis
declared, "If This is What The ‘Establishment’ GOP Looks Like, Bring On November."
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