WASHINGTON (AP/ CBS Washington) — Tuesday’s high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for tea party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.
Several tea party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Tuesday’s Republican congressional primaries in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho. In each state, however, the “establishment” Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials, which narrows the party’s philosophical differences.
Citing similar dynamics in other states, Democrats say the GOP candidates who are trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.
Six states hold primaries Tuesday. Georgia, Kentucky and Oregon have closely watched Republican contests for Senate. Pennsylvania and Arkansas have feisty gubernatorial primaries.
Republicans need to gain six Senate seats to control the chamber. Holding Kentucky and Georgia against well-funded Democrats, both women, is crucial to their hopes.
Some conservatives and liberals alike reject the notion that the Republican establishment is taming the tea party movement this spring. They point to Thom Tillis, who won the Senate nomination in North Carolina by defeating leaders of the tea party and the Christian Right.
Democrats say Tillis, speaker of the North Carolina House, is no moderate. He led the way for cuts in taxes, education spending and unemployment benefits. He boasts of rejecting federal funds to expand Medicaid.
“He is as in synch with the tea party as they can get,” said state Democratic spokesman Ben Ray.
Conservative activists say much the same thing, albeit with pride.
Additionally, Brent Bozell, an outspoken critic of Republican “moderation,” recently endorsed Rep. Jack Kingston, whose walked a careful line by showing more openness to establishment support while still catering to hard-core conservatives who dominate Republican primaries.
Matt Kibbe, who has feuded with McConnell as political chief of FreedomWorks, said the self-described liberty movement is winning the larger battles within the GOP.
“We’ve already changed the narrative, and the Republican Party is running on the principle of limited government,” Kibbe said. “Now we have to figure out what to do with a seat at the table.”
Brent Bozell, who founded the conservative Media Research Center, said of the Republican primaries: “With virtually no exception, everyone is running as a conservative. No one is running as a moderate, no one is running as an anti-tea-partyer.”
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