In one of the country’s most closely watched Republican primary races, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell beat back what was originally predicted to be a strong primary challenge from Tea Partier Matt Bevin in a race that was seen as a test of whether the Tea Party could still target and remove a key Republican establishment figure deemed not conservative enough. McConnell had vowed to crush his Tea Party challenger, and he did just that. But he was aided by several factors including: (1) a dreadful campaign by Bevin who proved to the be the kind of flawed Tea Party candidate that some believe caused the GOP to lose winning the Senate in 2012, and (2) the political pragmatism of Kentucky’s other Republican Senator Rand Paul who held his nose and endorsed McConnell.
Today’s political headlines will likely be a riff on the idea that The Republican Party Establishment Strikes back. And, in McConnell’s case, it was an impressive win, indeed:
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky decisively turned back the first well-financed Republican primary opponent he had faced since being elected in 1984, defeating a Tea Party-backed conservative who claimed the Senate minority leader had been too willing to compromise with Democrats.
Once thought to be vulnerable to such a challenge from the right, Mr. McConnell won with ease over his opponent, the businessman Matt Bevin. Mr. McConnell’s victory sets up what will be one of the most serious tests of his political career, a general election matchup against the Democratic nominee, Alison Lundergan Grimes. It is expected to be the costliest Senate race this year.
Mr. McConnell’s victory came on a day when five other states — Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Pennsylvania and Oregon — held primaries…NY Times
Meanwhile, The Washington Post notes that this time around Republican primary voters seem to be opting for candidates who are strong candidates, rather than quirky candidates who are Godsends to reporters looking for madcap quote machines, late night show comedy writers…and Democrats who pray for a GOP candidate that’s easy to negatively define. In other words: the Democrats’ task this November has just gotten harder:
Republicans’ hopes of taking back the Senate received a big boost in primary elections Tuesday, with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) easily winning and other candidates favored by the party establishment beating back tea party challengers.
After years of intraparty turmoil that cost Republicans key races, voters this year are coalescing around the GOP’s strongest candidates ahead of November’s general election, when control of the Senate during President Obama’s final two years in office will be up for grabs.
On Tuesday, the most consequential day of voting so far this year, Democrats were left disappointed. GOP Senate candidates prone to making controversial statements lost to better-financed, more disciplined rivals with the potential to capitalize on Obama’s unpopularity and the troubles with his signature health-care law.
Nowhere was this more evident than in Kentucky and Georgia, the only two states where Democrats think they can win Senate seats held by Republicans. Democrats had hoped McConnell would emerge from the primary campaign badly bruised, if not defeated, but he prevailed Tuesday largely unscathed and conservative groups quickly called for party unity.
And in Georgia, Democrats were banking on Republicans nominating a candidate so far to the right that he or she would alienate suburban centrist voters. But the two contenders considered to have the broadest general-election viability — businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston — advanced to a July 22 runoff, complicating Democrat Michelle Nunn’s path to victory.
Upcoming primary elections are likely to yield similar results. The tea party’s best and perhaps only remaining chance for an upset is in Mississippi, where support for Sen. Thad Cochran seems shaky, although his conservative challenger, state Sen. Chris McDaniel, has stumbled.
In Kentucky, McConnell’s weak poll numbers and voters’ overwhelming dissatisfaction with the Senate he helps lead made him particularly vulnerable to a conservative primary challenger. But after spending years deftly navigating his party and more than $10 million on his primary campaign, McConnell handily defeated Matt Bevin, 60 percent to 36 percent.
A sign of the party’s thirst to win: Tea Party groups are already hopping aboard the just-re-launched McConnell bandwagon:
Tea party groups that worked to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) united around him Tuesday night as he easily beat primary challenger Matt Bevin. But they also took credit for the man McConnell has become, arguing that they pushed him to become a stronger conservative.
“Matt Bevin’s principled challenge helped Senator McConnell rediscover his conservative principles come November. Competition always breeds stronger candidates, and there is an improved conservative candidate heading into the general election as a result,” Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks president, said in a statement.
McConnell easily defeated Bevin in the GOP primary, meaning he will face Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) in the general election.
Despite the backing of conservative groups like FreedomWorks and the Senate Conservatives Fund, Bevin struggled against the well-financed incumbent. McConnell’s team was able to go out early and define Bevin, a businessman, through negative attacks before most voters knew who he was.
McConnell touted high-profile endorsements from groups that included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association to show his conservative credentials. He also received the support of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a tea party favorite.
The Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project also put out statements Tuesday night that promised to now support McConnell.
Its significance? Doug Mataconis:
Inevitably, there will be talk in the coming days about what this means for the ongoing battle inside the Republican Party between the “establishment” and the Tea Party and its supporters. On that issue, it strikes me that there isn’t any way to characterize this as other than an utter defeat for the Tea Party. McConnell has been in their cross hairs for years now, and Rand Paul’s victory in 2010 over an establishment supported nominee in the GOP Primary was their inspiration. For the most part, they used the same playbook they had in previous Republican primaries in 2010 and 2012 where incumbents and establishment candidates were challenged, and that made sense given the fact that they had succeeded with that strategy in the past. The difference in Kentucky this time, as it has been in other races around the country, is the fact that the so-called “establishment” has been fighting back in a way that they didn’t do in previous election cycles. The fact that they’ve been winning suggests that the influence of the Tea Party inside the Republican Party, as well as groups like FreedomWorks, the Club For Growth, and Senate Conservatives Fund, may well have reached its zenith.
Things aren’t likely to go this easy for Mitch McConnell going forward. If the polls are to be believed, he faces a formidable challenge from Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Democratic nominee. It’s worth noting, however, that the polls were also telling us that McConnell was in serious danger of losing the nomination when this race started last year, and McConnell has proven throughout his political career that his is survivor. Counting him out would be foolish and, right now, I’m thinking that he will most likely eke out a win over Grimes in the fall.
Throughout his career his foes, and some in the media, have made a common mistake: underestimating the steel-tough, unrelenting McConnell. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Dems and much of the media do so again and if his acceptance speech is re-run in November.
Chris Matthews: ‘Why Is Mitch [McConnell] Being Such An S.O.B. So Fast?’ http://t.co/8AhuUnMAOJ
— NewsBusters (@newsbusters) May 21, 2014
McConnell against Obama's unfavorable ratings. Grimes runs against McConnell's unfavorables. Who has a net favorable rating? Grimes. #KYsen
— EJ Dionne (@EJDionne) May 21, 2014
— Joe Scarborough (@JoeNBC) May 21, 2014
— Eric Boehlert (@EricBoehlert) May 21, 2014
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) May 21, 2014
Alison Lundergan Grimes Obliterates Mitch McConnell In Rousing Victory Speech http://t.co/D50YC77GWt
— Ivan Roberson (@Ivanroberson) May 21, 2014
— ramaxe (@ramaxe1965) May 21, 2014
Mitch McConnell just declared war on President Obama whom, he says, sold #Obamacare "on a mountain of lies." This will be like a 2012 rerun.
— EJ Dionne (@EJDionne) May 21, 2014
Mitch McConnell says "the powers that be in Washington have treated Kentucky with contempt." Who's the Senate GOP leader?
— Joan Walsh (@joanwalsh) May 21, 2014
Congratulations to Mitch McConnell on tonight’s victory! Looking forward to another big win for @Team_Mitch in November.
— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) May 21, 2014
Mitch McConnell just won his primary. Here's why he could be toast in November. http://t.co/auL7k1NQnW
— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) May 20, 2014
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.