May 14th, 2014
11:41 AM ET
3 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. Sniffit

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

    Perhaps you missed the "not its primary activity" part. Blatantly promoting particular candidates or parties and their agendas...and making that ALL you do via commercials, flyers, brochures, etc...is a clear violation and I don't care which party is doing it. The problem is that enforcement is not stringent enough, not that it was overly zealous.

    May 14, 2014 01:13 pm at 1:13 pm |
  2. Sniffit

    "Look it up."

    Why bother. They'll just deny it anyway while throwing a fit akin to when Charlie (Tom Cruise) turns on the hot water in the tub and Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) goes bezerk....or perhaps the famous airport hissy fit he throws. Facts contrary to their tightly held delusions make them freak the hell out.

    May 14, 2014 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  3. Dean

    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 !
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    At which time, Obama will allow the gay cows to marry and grant all the benefits of citizenship to cows that crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico. They will also be issued voter ID forms (pre-filled out as 'Democrat') and Obama phones. They'll always have gas in their tanks and never have to make another mortgage payment.

    May 14, 2014 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  4. Thomas

    @Dean
    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 !
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________

    At which time, Obama will allow the gay cows to marry and grant all the benefits of citizenship to cows that crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico. They will also be issued voter ID forms (pre-filled out as 'Democrat') and Obama phones. They'll always have gas in their tanks and never have to make another mortgage payment.

    ========

    Can you say Benghazi three times real fast and look in the mirror at the same time ?

    Also ho do you know there are gay cows , be honest !

    May 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  5. Fire

    What's with CNN, flight 370 not so much news so they turn 24/7 gang up on 80+ year old Donald Sterling saying things on an illegal recording in the privacy of his own home. Maybe they will send reporters to nursing homes to record what the elderly have to say. What is CNN afraid of when it comes to Benghazi, IRS, along with other important news items that the American Citizens, the truth? How is the Government Va Hospitals doing for the Government Healthcare in this country. No let's stir up racism.

    May 14, 2014 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  6. The REAL Truth...

    @Chris-E...al – 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 .
    ------------------------------------
    It's precisely this level of exhibited ignorance and paranoia that drives the GOP base. Which Party ran on jobs in 2010, and has yet to produce a single one ? Why Party caused the Federal shutdown and lost is $24 Billion, not too long after their budget hissy caused our debt rating down grade. Let's ignore the additional interest expense that will cost the taxpayer. The Party of family values and fiscal responsibility has done nothing the last 5 yrs.. Why on earth any intelligent being would consider voting for them is beyond belief. Must be the brainwashing..!!

    May 14, 2014 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  7. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Can you say Benghazi three times real fast and look in the mirror at the same time ?"

    Not on the ticker, Thomas. I only tried to say BENGHAZI once and couldn't get posted.

    BENGHAZI

    May 14, 2014 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  8. Lynda/Minnesota

    "Which Party ran on jobs in 2010"

    How soon they forget .... yes? Yeah, they ran on JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! And spent the next 3 years repealing Obamacare; eliminating abortion rights; relealing Obamacare; eliminating abortion rights; repealing Obamacare; eliminating abortion rights.

    Oh, yeah. GOPerville also make Obama a one term President and managed to rename a few Post Offices to boot.

    In hindsight, had Eric Cantor added a few more working days to the House calendar perhaps they would have continued their journey of repealing Obamacare and eliminating abortion rights?

    As it is, it's been forever since the House has been in session. Or perhaps it's just felt like forever?

    May 14, 2014 01:45 pm at 1:45 pm |
  9. They ought to change from the elephant to the hippo...

    So... What other "social welfare function" does the Tea Party serve other than as a political organization?? Does busing people to their rallies fulfill a transportation need or something?

    May 14, 2014 01:50 pm at 1:50 pm |
  10. Silence DoGood

    "At which time, Obama will allow the gay cows to marry and grant all the benefits of citizenship to cows that crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico. They will also be issued voter ID forms (pre-filled out as 'Democrat') and Obama phones. They'll always have gas in their tanks and never have to make another mortgage payment."
    -------------
    It is fascinating that, out of context, I cannot decide if a comment like this smart liberal hyperbole or straight faced conservative tin foil hat rhetoric.

    May 14, 2014 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  11. Namelinda

    The tea party fanatics like Palin and Cruz will be the downfall of this country. With no solutions for the problems in this country they antagize their racial stereotypes onto others in a country that minorities will outnumber white America soon. These type people will contunue to divide this country with their ignorant views. As I will continue to state Ted Cruz nor Sara Palin will never be President because minorities dislike their views and ugly ways.

    May 14, 2014 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  12. BC

    The liberals live in their own made up world. There are so many scandles going on with this president I can't even list them all on here. Liberals will NEVER take personal responsibility for their actions and they will blame the conservatives for everything. The only thing in the news on CNN are distractions from the real issues. Nobody cares if your gay. But this is how they work.. And the uniformed American will always vote for Santa Claus. Obama is the biggest scam artist of all time and if your a liberal you should feel like you just got your lunch handed to you. I can't wait for 2016 when we can take this country back and get a real president.

    May 14, 2014 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  13. KieranH

    Nebraska and West Virginia eh??? Winners in them there states!

    May 14, 2014 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  14. rs

    BC

    The liberals live in their own made up world. There are so many scandles going on with this president I can't even list them all on here.
    __________________
    Speaking of made up, you realize that there isn't enough evidence for any of those scandals to be called real, right?

    May 14, 2014 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  15. Tommy G

    Sniffit
    "However, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may engage in some political activities, so long as that is not its primary activity.
    Perhaps you missed the "not its primary activity" part. Blatantly promoting particular candidates or parties and their agendas...and making that ALL you do via commercials, flyers, brochures, etc...is a clear violation and I don't care which party is doing it. The problem is that enforcement is not stringent enough, not that it was overly zealous.
    ---

    No, I missed nothing. I merely corrected your lie. Your original posting is below. "which is prohibited by law" were the words you used. It is in fact NOT prohibited by law, it is restricted or limited. You claim to be a lawyer but now I doubt that. Such sloppy use of language on your part would have you working the MacDonald's drive thru in no time.

    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 02:23 pm at 2:23 pm |
  16. Wade

    I have noticed that CNN has a real hate for the TEA PARTY. I am not a member but still I would expect a NEWS company to be balanced. CNN appears only to favor dems and openly campaign for them.

    May 14, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. rs

    Tom l

    rs,

    Maybe you can ask Hillary the meaning of "take our country back" since that was one of her favorite lines on the campaign trail...
    ________________
    No, thanks, the Right took that line and ruined it. You could try of course....

    May 14, 2014 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  18. Chuck

    Welcome to Progressive Communism Central

    May 14, 2014 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  19. Drakkon

    Tea Party candidates are the biggest welfare recipients of all time. They get elected to office and then do nothing while getting paid from public money, plus they get free healthcare for life after that. What a bunch of government cheese-munching hand-out seeking hypocrites.

    May 14, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  20. BErnard

    when you think the tea party was finish lol a comeback

    May 14, 2014 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  21. Brenda

    Dude that says there are gay cows because Hannity and O'Reilly told him there were.

    May 14, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  22. GODZILLA1

    T baggers are on the downhill slope towards the graveyard of political oblivion, like the Greenback, the Greenback Labor, the Anti-Monopoly, the Free Silver, the Anti-Imperialist, the Know-Nothing parties.

    May 14, 2014 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  23. Hector Slagg

    No one has a claim on Fiscal Responsibility. Our Liberal "Friends" spend like there is no tomorrow, hence the nearly !8 Trillion Dollar Federal debt and on and on and on. Now that the Liberal Left is like the Emperor with no Clothes they will lie to the bitter end with you holding the bag. Those that supported the Liberals over the last 100 years are now paying the bill. 29 Hour Work Weeks, Food Stamps, unemployment, etc., etc., etc.

    May 14, 2014 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  24. Normandy

    celebrate while you can you backwards, religiously brainwashed bigoted sheep! There wont be any more wins for you...

    May 14, 2014 02:47 pm at 2:47 pm |
  25. m123

    The Tea Party head makes more money than the POTUS, and supports amnesty for illegals (using double speak).
    So what is their base now?
    Just another political party that starts out with good intentions and turns disgusting once the money starts flowing in.

    May 14, 2014 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
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