May 14th, 2014
11:41 AM ET
6 months ago

Short-lived tea party victories?

(CNN) - They were much needed victories for the tea party movement. And major tea party and anti-establishment GOP groups were quick to celebrate.

But the wins Tuesday night by Ben Sasse in the Republican Senate primary in Nebraska and Alex Mooney in the GOP contest in West Virginia's 2nd Congressional District might be some of the last those on the right will celebrate this primary season. Anti-establishment candidates face long odds in upcoming GOP primaries.

Complete Coverage: 2014 Midterm Elections

In Nebraska, Sasse won easily, beating the original favorite in the race, former state treasurer Shane Osborn, who was backed by some in the Republican establishment, and Omaha banker Ben Dinsdale, who thanks to an infusion of $1 million of his own money, surged in the polls in the campaign's closing weeks.

Sasse in recent weeks he won the support of a bunch of tea party and other conservative groups, and high-profile leaders on the right like former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Sasse is now considered the favorite over Democratic trial attorney David Domina in the heavily Republican state's November general election. The winner of that race will succeed retiring GOP Sen. MIke Johanns.

First on CNN: New endorsement in Iowa GOP Senate battle

Minutes after the race was called, major national tea party groups fired off victorious emails.

"Ben Sasse's upset victory is a testament to the power of an empowered and relentless grassroots community," said FreedomWorks for America President Matt Kibbe.

"Ben Sasse's victory in the Nebraska Senate Republican Primary shows the strength of the conservative movement," added ForAmerica Chairman Brent Bozell.

And Cruz, who joined Lee and Palin at a recent Sasse rally in Nebraska, said, "Ben Sasse's decisive victory in Nebraska tonight is a clear indication that the grassroots are rising up to make D.C. listen. They're rising up to take our country back."

In West Virginia, conservative Mooney beat out six other GOP contenders. Mooney was backed by a number of tea party groups and other conservative organizations.

Those groups said the victories in both states prove their movement is alive and well.

"Political pundits love to role-play as coroners, but they aren't very good at it." Tea Party Express Executive Director Taylor Budowich said. "For the past week the mainstream media has been pushing the recycled 'Tea Party is Dead' headlines, but tonight's results show how again they've got it wrong. What these pundits don't understand is the power of the grassroots and the broad appeal of the Tea Party's message of fiscal responsibility and economic growth."

"The victories of Ben Sasse and Alex Mooney tonight, coupled with the victory of Curt Clawson in Florida in late April, prove the Tea Party's momentum is continuing to roar forward."

Overall score

The wins in Nebraska and West Virginia came a week after candidates backed by tea party and other anti-establishment groups lost in the North Carolina GOP Senate primary to state House Speaker Thom Tillis, the more moderate candidate.

And earlier this year in Texas, Sen. John Cornyn, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, easily beat back a primary challenge from the right. And longtime GOP Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas cruised to victory over a tea party activist in his primary.

The road ahead doesn't look any kinder to tea party-backed candidates:

May 20: Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is being challenged by businessman Matt Bevin, who enjoys strong support from many tea party groups and influential conservative organizations.

While this race has seen big spending - both by the campaigns and from outside groups - the McConnell is expected to cruise to renomination for his sixth term. But he faces a serious challenge in November from rising Democratic star Alison Lundergan Grimes, whom big-name Democrats are already campaigning for.

In Georgia, Republican Reps. Phil Gingrey, Paul Broun and Jack Kingston, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, and businessman David Perdue are the major candidates in a free-for-all GOP Senate primary. Kingston, Handel, and Perdue, rather than the more conservative Broun and Gingrey, are considered the frontrunners. The winner will face off against Michelle Nunn, the all-but-certain Democratic nominee and daughter of former longtime Sen. Sam Nunn, a household name in Georgia. The winner of the general election will succeed retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss

In Oregon, Portland pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Monica Wehby, who enjoys establishment backing, is considered the frontrunner over more conservative state Rep. Jason Conger in the race for the GOP Senate nomination. The winner of that contest will run in November against first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who Republicans think might be vulnerable if 2014 turns into a wave year for the GOP.

And in Idaho, there's a high-profile incumbent-vs.-tea party showdown in the House, where eight-term Rep. Mike Simpson faces a serious primary challenge from conservative favorite Bryan Smith.

June 3: Two weeks later, the establishment-vs.-tea party contest shifts to Mississippi, which is among eight states holding primaries that day.

Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran is facing a serious challenge from state lawmaker Chris McDaniel in Mississippi. Private polling shows Cochran with a comfortable lead, but outside establishment groups are taking nothing for granted.

Has the tea party lost its mojo?

Since its birth in 2009, the tea party movement has had many electoral successes. Primary challenges from the right have produced major headlines for the movement.

But they have also given the GOP lots of headaches and hurt the party's chances of winning back the Senate from Democrats, effectively costing the GOP five winnable elections the last two cycles in Nevada, Delaware, Colorado, Indiana and Missouri.

Key races to watch in 2014

So what's happening this cycle?

"I don't think we can say that the tea party movement is dead, but there seems to be less enthusiasm among their activists and supporters this year," said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, a top campaign handicapper. "Establishment Republicans and incumbents have learned to run against tea party-backed candidates.

And outside help this time may be making a difference.

"I think the Republican establishment is fighting back more than in previous cycles. There is more organization and involvement from outside groups in some of these primaries. I think in the past it was too often an incumbent running against an anti-establishment challenger and a host of outside groups," said Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report.

Winning by losing

Regardless of the outcome of the primary contests, Amy Kremer says the tea party is already victorious.

"The tea party has already won because we have changed the narrative and the political landscape in Washington. Now, both sides of the aisle express concern about our ballooning national debt," said Kremer, who just stepped down as chairwoman of the Tea Party Express and is now helping Matt Bevin in his bid to unseat McConnell in Kentucky.

CNN Chief National Correspondent John King agrees.

"The tea party is winning by losing in the sense that you don't see any Republicans saying, 'Let's pass immigration reform that gives a path to citizenship, let's make it easier for the President to raise the debt ceiling.' Almost all Republicans have shifted right."

This war is far from over

Another top strategist says this year's contests aren't the final chapter in the struggle between the grassroots and the establishment.

"The party remains deeply divided, and both sides have the resources and commitment needed to take the fight into 2015 and 2016, wrote Stuart Rothenberg, editor and publisher of the Rothenberg Political Report, another top campaign handicapper. "The war is likely to get messier and the division more consequential before the two sides look for ways to bridge their differences. That should please Democrats."

 


Filed under: 2014 • Senate • Senate Race • Tea Party • Tea Party movement
soundoff (90 Responses)
  1. Tom l

    No it doesn’t and no he wasn’t. Social Security, BY LAW, does not contribute to the deficit. In order to reach a contrary conclusion you first have to ignore that law and then have to make all sorts of assumptions about how the government will treat the bonds and interest on bonds, all while ignoring how the bonds really work. Places like FactCheck and PolitiFact got themselves excoriated by academic research outfits like the Center for Economic and Policy Research for their sloppy, misinformed and incorrect analyses of the issue. Your attempts to push that narrative, however, just highights that you spend all your time consuming the tripe that places like Faux, Red State and Breitbart are cooking, because they’re the only ones pushing that ridiculous accusation.
    ==========

    I read the story on Yahoo. I don't read Fox nor Red State nor Breitbard.

    Gosh, I wish I could be like Sniffit and have no "narrative". Wow. You and Rudy sure have been using that word a lot lately. I wonder why......

    May 14, 2014 11:58 am at 11:58 am |
  2. Chris-E...al

    Its odvious you dems on this site know nothing about all the good the Koch family has done for america . I think a little research is in order on your part or anyone for that matter that is interested in knowing just what they do and how they contribute to worthy causes and needs of america .

    May 14, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  3. Rick McDaniel

    Everyone knows that CNN is a propagandist organization for the Democratic Party. Your constant posts in support of the Dems are really overkill. We know where you stand, and that is against the freedoms and principles of the founding fathers.

    CNN, you are aiding and abetting dictatorship in America.

    May 14, 2014 12:00 pm at 12:00 pm |
  4. Thomas

    The Tea Party is the only Party that can return our country to the glory days before electricity and indoor plumbing !

    Rick Perry / Sarah Palin 2016
    Intellect and Grit , no Girly Girl hair spray for Mama Bear and Mr. Coyote Killer !

    May 14, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  5. Loathstheright

    We can only hope that America wakes up to this nightmare the republicans caused....but knowing some of the conservatives I know, there is no hope of them getting any smarter.

    May 14, 2014 12:01 pm at 12:01 pm |
  6. old age voters

    Tea party / conservative groups / anti-establishment GOP groups / high-profile leaders:

    This is why it’s time for a third party in America; the American voter needs a Conservative Democratic Party; Conservative Democratic Party candidates to vote for; voters are looking for those JFK and Ronald Reagan candidates.

    May 14, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  7. barryinlasvegas

    CNN once again projecting the end of the Tea Party while it continues to grow and expand its influence brining the "established" republicans into their camp and adopting their program. But then what else can you expect from what is soon to become once again the Clinton News Network.

    May 14, 2014 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  8. Shawn

    Why is this under the "News" section when this is obviously an editor's OPINION?

    May 14, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  9. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Another top strategist says this year's contests aren't the final chapter in the struggle between the grassroots and the establishment."

    Seriously, CNN. Get a clue. There is NO grassroots. It's either billionaires funding GOP astroturfing candidates or it's billionaires funding GOP establishment candidates.

    It's all one in the same. Same GOPerville party affiliation. Same funding.

    GOPerville Grassroots Astroturfing Establishment Billionaires 2014

    Rah. Rah.

    May 14, 2014 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  10. never to vote republican again

    The tea party will be dead very soon. Thank the gods.

    May 14, 2014 12:08 pm at 12:08 pm |
  11. Rudy NYC

    old age voters

    Tea party / conservative groups / anti-establishment GOP groups / high-profile leaders:

    This is why it’s time for a third party in America; the American voter needs a Conservative Democratic Party; Conservative Democratic Party candidates to vote for; voters are looking for those JFK and Ronald Reagan candidates.
    ---------------------------------------
    We have had a third party for decades, and thanks to Citizens United is has become a major party. It's name? Money.

    May 14, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  12. greg

    The Koch brothers serve the Koch brothers.
    Concerns about the deficit are long standing and date back to Reagan's era when tax rates were cut (albeit he also rose rates when needed; his type of pragmatic conservatism is long dead). The Tea Party adds nothing new to the narrative except hyper anti-government propaganda that in earlier times would have been considered unpatriotic.
    Taking the Country Back is coded language for people who think the majority of the country are enemies (because, yes, even though the GOP wins elections the overwhemling majority of the non-voting public aligns with Democrats; and the GOP majority in the House is maintained with a minority of the popular vote through anti-democratic gerrymandering).
    CNN is not liberal. CNN is Corporate. People who think CNN is liberal have never actually encountered liberal media.

    May 14, 2014 12:14 pm at 12:14 pm |
  13. Dan5404

    The Tea Party is a bunch of minority extremists whose views are becoming less and less popular, except for their similarly-warped constituents in right-wing and gerrymandered districts. The entire GOP has been unduly commandeered by radicalism and a movement to take us back to the 1800's and a perfect world they created in their own minds. Unfortunately for them, most Americans do not agree.

    May 14, 2014 12:15 pm at 12:15 pm |
  14. Gurgyl

    Defunct....GOP, republicans, Tea all gone.

    May 14, 2014 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  15. spudnik56

    The tea party...a sad, pitiful joke...

    May 14, 2014 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  16. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    So has anyone else heard about the retired military guy leading a march on Washington to force the POTUS to resign on 5/16??

    May 14, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  17. Michael

    @Chris-E...al

    "Villains who twirl their mustaches are easy to spot. Those who cloth themselves in good deeds are well camouflaged."

    May 14, 2014 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  18. Tommy G

    Bad news Democrats. Your illegal use of the IRS to target the TEA Party in order to suppress their political activity and participation in elections is going to backfire in a MAJOR way on you come this November.

    Yes, we know 2010 scared the heck out of you because the TEA Party took away your dictatorial power in the House. Well, in 2014, we are coming again and this time for the Senate. Bit by bit, we will strip the far left of power because they have proven to be incompetent and untrustworthy. The endless stream of lies will end when all lying Demorcats are driven from office.

    May 14, 2014 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    never to vote republican again

    The tea party will be dead very soon. Thank the gods.
    ------------------------------------
    The name might die, but the movement will not. A decade ago these same folks would have known as "minutemen".

    May 14, 2014 12:25 pm at 12:25 pm |
  20. rs

    Chris-E...al

    Its odvious you dems on this site know nothing about all the good the Koch family has done for america . I think a little research is in order on your part or anyone for that matter that is interested in knowing just what they do and how they contribute to worthy causes and needs of america .
    _______________________
    Do tell. I see a pair of rich boys spending Daddy's money- just like he used to spend it on the John Birch Society. $125 million alone this year on House races. They are BUYING elections with their lie-filled ads, or trying to get the tar sands pipeline built so they can make another $100 billion, refining the "oil", polluting the gulf, and shipping the product to China. By definition, that isn't "good for America".

    May 14, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  21. Debbie

    What should hurt the tea party (but doesn't, apparently) are the fictitious statements they make in order to scare people. Death panels were only the tip of the ice berg.
    I've been a conservative voter up until George W. Bush, and that was mostly because I couldn't stand all of the false claims and out and out attempts to fool those that don't want to check "facts" that the tea party insists on making up.
    The tea party has become more obviously the super rich and the super anti-government fringe. We actually do need a government, and not one that thinks religion is the number one problem facing Americans.

    May 14, 2014 12:28 pm at 12:28 pm |
  22. Sniffit

    "Your illegal use of the IRS to target the TEA Party in order to suppress their political activity and participation in elections"

    Do you have any idea how hilarious it is for you to simultaneously complain about the IRS "attacking" a 501(c)(4) group while admitting outright that it was engaged in blatantly political activity, which is prohibited by law if they wish to maintain their 501(c)(4) tax-exempt status? Might as well tattoo "I haven't the slightest clue what I'm talking about" across your forehead.

    May 14, 2014 12:31 pm at 12:31 pm |
  23. max

    "Lynda/Minnesota
    "Another top strategist says this year's contests aren't the final chapter in the struggle between the grassroots and the establishment."

    Seriously, CNN. Get a clue. There is NO grassroots. It's either billionaires funding GOP astroturfing candidates or it's billionaires funding GOP establishment candidates.

    It's all one in the same. Same GOPerville party affiliation. Same funding.

    GOPerville Grassroots Astroturfing Establishment Billionaires 2014

    Rah. Rah."

    I LOVE how you say this like there isn't all kinds of money funneling into the democrat party.

    May 14, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  24. Sniffit

    "So has anyone else heard about the retired military guy leading a march on Washington to force the POTUS to resign on 5/16??"

    Oooooh, sounds like comedic gold. You think it will be just him or will it be him and like 4 or 5 other medication non-compliant folks?

    May 14, 2014 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  25. Sniffit

    Two words to describe this article: desperate rationalization.

    Your narrative got pooped on and you're trying to save it.

    May 14, 2014 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
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