Mainstream conservatives swept Senate Republican primaries as tea-party upstarts lost all six challenges to GOP incumbents, leaving the establishment upbeat about midterm elections and the insurgent movement beaten but unbowed.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander’s narrow win Thursday night and Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts’ triumph Tuesday dashed the tea party’s last hopes of knocking out a sitting senator. Earlier this year, incumbents prevailed in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi for a party intent on nominating viable candidates and winning Senate control in November’s contests.
Republicans need to net six seats for the majority. Democrats currently hold a 55-45 advantage.
“The last two cycles we nominated some people who were not the best candidates for the general election,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters during a campaign stop in Hindman, Ky. “In 2014, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single state where we don’t have the best nominee possible in order to do what this is all about, which is to actually get elected and make policy.
“We had a good cycle so far; it doesn’t guarantee the outcome,” he said.
Republicans blame tea- partyers and flawed candidates for squandering the party’s shot at Senate control in 2010 and 2012, especially in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Missouri and Indiana. Months ago, McConnell vowed to “crush” tea-party candidates, and the National Republican Senatorial Committee invested money, staff and time, including more than 40,000 phone calls, in Kansas in the final three weeks of the campaign.
Tea-partyers and other outside groups acknowledged the beat-down.
But many insist that the numbers fail to account for the movement’s success in forcing incumbents to move right on issues such as immigration and federal spending.