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Tea Party Holds Ground in GOP Primaries

Tea Party Holds Ground in GOP Primaries

The Tea Party may not be knocking off incumbents, but it doesn’t appear to be losing any ground within the GOP.

So while conservatives weren’t able to claim any more establishment scalps this 2014 primary cycle to place on the mantelpiece next to Eric Cantor or Richard Lugar, they didn’t suffer any significant losses or real backlash from the pro-business wing of the Republican Party.

The big target on the right Tuesday was Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, who faced a challenge from Milton Wolf, a suburban Kansas City radiologist who first gained fame for being Barack Obama’s conservative second cousin. While the most serious Tea Party groups, such as Club for Growth, never played in the race, Wolf got endorsements from the Senate Conservatives Fund and the right-wing personalities Mark Levin and Erick Erickson. The challenger ran a race straight out of the Tea Party playbook, attacking Roberts for not being a real resident of Kansas and for being too liberal.

But Wolf’s campaign was never able to catch fire with conservatives. The doctor’s efforts suffered a setback when it was discovered he had been posting macabre x-rays on his personal Facebook page. It didn’t help that the ongoing Senate primary in Mississippi, where litigation is continuing, sucked captured most of the attention of national conservatives. Wolf’s biggest problem, though, might have been that Roberts remained focused on issues that played well back home, unlike other Republicans whom conservatives allege have “gone Washington.” While longtime Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar spent his time on nuclear proliferation and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor focused on raising money for the GOP, Roberts kept a much lower profile and focused on national security and agricultural issues. Both topics played well in a rural state with several major military bases.

Roberts ended up winning a narrow but decisive victory Tuesday, by a margin of 48 percent to 41 percent. Two other minor Tea Party candidates got the remaining votes, as the underfunded and unimpressive Wolf surprisingly managed to hold a three-term incumbent to less than 50 percent.

In Michigan, the GOP establishment had long been salivating over the prospect of taking down second-term Rep. Justin Amash but came up short. Amash, whom one GOP congressional colleague recently described as “al Qaeda's best friend in the Congress” was outspent by his opponent, businessman Brian Ellis. In addition, Ellis was backed by seemingly every group in the traditional Republican coalition, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Farm Bureau, and Michigan Right to Life. But that wasn’t enough.

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