May 14th, 2014
11:41 AM ET
4 years 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. sly

    Nebraska and West Virginia?

    Better do some fact-checking – I'm pretty sure both of those states seceeded from the Union long ago.

    Certainly nothing any American's need to follow closely.

    May 14, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |
  2. Silence DoGood

    @never to vote republican again
    The tea party will be dead very soon. Thank the gods.
    As a liberal I am sad to see the TP leave the scene. More than any other recent conservative group, they showed the true colors of the extremists. They are all about unfettered Corporate, Theocratic, totalitarianism government. The moderate GOP puts a smile on a hidden agenda and people forget what their base is really about.

    May 14, 2014 12:35 pm at 12:35 pm |

    Dems truly are the party of no no good jobs no freedom anti business more taxes bare bones healthcare anti energy on and on ! Dems prefer government dependents in ever stage of life .

    May 14, 2014 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  4. Lynda/Minnesota

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

    Well, thank you. It's been a few days since I've played rubber and glue; a game I'm finding is a favorite on the ticker.

    Oh, and by the way. From what I've read ... officially and all ... it's coined the democratic party by the party faithful. We wouldn't want to mislead the grassroots billionaires to give by mistaken identity to the wrong folks.

    May 14, 2014 12:37 pm at 12:37 pm |
  5. Dead Bear

    They won primaries in Nebraska and West Virginia. Oh wow! I'm soooooo impressed. Judging by the bragging of their supporters on here, you'd think they just got handed the speaker's gavel in Congress or something. The victory speech from the intellectual luminary Ted Cruz screams arrogance and delusion... Maybe Tea Party candidates should reconsider their opposition to campaign finance reform, seeing as their willful acceptance of outside money has branded them hypocrites in the minds of most independent voters. You know. Those people you need to get votes from to win a general election. Good luck with that, by the way.

    May 14, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  6. Silence DoGood

    The Tea Party is the only Party that can return our country to the glory days before electricity and indoor plumbing !
    (continuing hyperbole alert for TP folks) Don't forget back to the glory days when you could stop women from voting, get cheap slave labor in factories, tell gay people they are sinners, and tell people of the wrong color to move to the back of the bus!

    May 14, 2014 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  7. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    I don't think it will be very many because he only has 4,000 followers but they're trying to get 1,000,000. I do believe it's going to be comical though. Especially with them in their pointy hats and Revolutionary War attire.

    Google it for a laugh... Or you could just google Rove meltdown Election 2012.....😸😸😸😸

    May 14, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  8. Rudy NYC


    "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.... ... ....?
    The answer it no. They do it so often on such a wide variety of topics that it's obvious they've lost their little pieces of minds. My latest favorite example are those anti-government terrorists on the Bundy farm, the ones who call themselves "patriots" while waving the flag over the heads of the very government that they have sworn to hate. There is no way that you can be an anti-government hero, and a patriot to that same government at the same time.

    May 14, 2014 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  9. Thomas

    Rand Paul and Cliven Bundy are marching to DC with over a hundred head of cattle to graze on the White House lawn .

    Rand say's BLM land is the peoples land and cows are people too !

    May 14, 2014 12:46 pm at 12:46 pm |
  10. Peter Grenader Give it up. We've been seeing this jazz since November 8 2008 and its not influenced us at all. The centralist GOP have distanced themselves from the TP because they realized they were going down with their ship. They've done no good for the country and even less for their own party. Move on.

    May 14, 2014 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  11. kylefromohio

    "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."

    Take your country back from Who; I am what you might be the opposition in which youo do not like, and I don't have the country so who has it; we thought with you all had it the country. who steal the country from them, we must help them find it for all American's

    May 14, 2014 12:49 pm at 12:49 pm |
  12. Tommy G

    "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.

    Still lying in here I see Sniffit.... You are not much of a lawyer, but sure do know how to lie so I think you have found your calling.

    Right from the IRS:

    However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.

    May 14, 2014 12:52 pm at 12:52 pm |
  13. Tony D

    Whether the TEA Party takes 1 or 2 or 66 seats from the Democrats as they did in 2010, it is a GOOD DAY in America when a far left Democrat gets removed from office.

    May 14, 2014 12:54 pm at 12:54 pm |
  14. Bob

    "relentless grassroots community," The Tea Party- the best political party billionaire's money can buy.

    May 14, 2014 12:56 pm at 12:56 pm |
  15. Wake Up People! Many Rivers to cross.....

    Good one Thomas and might I add, I so love your sense of humor!😹😹

    May 14, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  16. Pandamonius

    The Tea party express director had it right. The Tea Party DOES have broad appeal. It appeals to a very broad swath of the most rabid extremists in their party's base.

    Why they feel like they have to keep winning their own base over, is another question.

    May 14, 2014 12:57 pm at 12:57 pm |
  17. Bob

    Ever notice how every Tea Party press release or official statement always contains the words "grassroots"? The lady doth protest too much methinks. It's like Hitler said "If you repeat a lie enough times eventually (the stupid) people will believe it".

    May 14, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |
  18. Tampa Tim

    Republicans will always be able to exploit the brain dead with their "Fundraising Off the Deaths of 4 Americans in Benghazi." Their followers cannot remember the 3000 killed on 9-11-2001, the 15 embassy attacks under the Bush error that killed 50 Americans, the unnecessary wars that killed 4500 soldiers and wounded 45,000 soldiers.

    May 14, 2014 12:58 pm at 12:58 pm |

    Example. koch have 50.000 employees in U.S. 20.000 over seas . They produce many things and donate billions to cancer research and art and science and fund enablement of at risk youth and many more good charities and programs for kids . They even produce napkins for the job killing dems to wipe the tears . dems dont like success it seems ?

    May 14, 2014 12:59 pm at 12:59 pm |
  20. TKO

    Love comments like this:

    "Dems truly are the party of no no good jobs no freedom anti business more taxes bare bones healthcare anti energy on and on ! Dems prefer government dependents in ever stage of life"

    The facts from the GAO say the opposite: Over the past 60 years Dem administrations have overseen smaller govt, greater job growth, smaller unemployment numbers, larger DOW averages, and larger GNP. That is a fact. If you believe the GOP is the party of "smaller govt" and "fiscal restraint" you are just plain wrong. Look it up.

    May 14, 2014 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  21. Lewis

    I never thought I'd be cheering on the GOP on anything. But I don't care anymore. We should be fighting off the tea party traitors at any cost. They nearly destroyed the economy and brought us to the edge of default twice. I hope the GOP kicks them out of our government for good and forever.

    May 14, 2014 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  22. rs

    "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."
    I ALWAYS love this line! Take America back to what? The 19th century? You know, the one where women couldn't vote or own property? To a time when slavery was possible? To the era of the robber barons? Or, do they want to go back farther?

    May 14, 2014 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  23. Tom l

    I think that Sniffit and Rudy were told to work together todat in a coordinated effort. It seems like Tampa Tim has been reassigned or possibly promoted to another site. I should check Yahoo to see!

    May 14, 2014 01:05 pm at 1:05 pm |
  24. Tom l


    Maybe you can ask Hillary the meaning of "take our country back" since that was one of her favorite lines on the campaign trail...

    May 14, 2014 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  25. Remington

    Its doubtful the democrats will get the seats in Nebraska or WV and that's all that matters. The GOP most likely will not take the Senate but the House will still be solid for the GOP. A true blessing considering the last time the idiots had total control.

    May 14, 2014 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
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