Primary Night Review: 'The Establishment' Prevails

Posted: May 21, 2014 11:00 AM

Dan previewed these races, Kevin called them as they came in and now here's my quick day-after analysis:

In Kentucky, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell carried the day, handily defeating his Tea Party-backed opponent, whose campaign was dogged by various controversies and never got off the ground. McConnell will face loyal Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes in November. Red State's Erick Erickson, an outspoken Bevin backer and acerbic critic of McConnell throughout the contest, made an appeal for GOP unity on Twitter:

The Bevin-supporting Senate Conservatives Fund echoed that sentiment:

"We congratulate Senator McConnell on his victory and urge Republicans in Kentucky to come together to defeat Alison Lundergan Grimes," said SCF Executive Director Matt Hoskins. "We thank Matt Bevin for standing up for conservative principles and giving voters a choice in this race. Now it's time for Republicans to unite for victory in November."

The NRSC, unsurprisingly, was pleased with the result. The campaign of unremittingly tying Grimes to Barack Obama is on:

Congratulations to Senator Mitch McConnell on his impressive victory tonight. Voters recognized that Mitch is a proven conservative who has fought against the Obama agenda and has always put Kentucky first. "The Kentucky Senate race will be about the issues. Voters will have a choice between Alison Lundergan Grimes, a candidate who is beholden to Barack Obama and Harry Reid and their war on coal, or Leader McConnell who has fought for Kentucky coal and the jobs that it provides. Voters will have a choice between Alison Lundergan Grimes, who supports ObamaCare or Leader McConnell who's led the charge to repeal it. Voters will have a choice between Alison Lundergan Grimes, a candidate who will support the Obama agenda or Mitch McConnell who will be a check and balance on President Obama."

In Georgia, two conservatives favored by the party establishment (a CEO and veteran Congressman) advanced to a run-off, the winner of which will take on Democrat Michelle Nunn -- who'd rather not say if she would have voted for Obamacare. Two of the most fiery (and potentially problematic) candidates from the party's right flank ended up pulling in a combined 20 percent, far short of a relevance threshold.

In Oregon, pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby sailed to a dominating win in her state's Republican primary, setting her sights on reflexive Obama rubber-stamp Sen. Jeff Merkley in the fall. Wehby has a compelling story to tell, and has introduced herself to voters through a series of outstanding television ads. Democrats are busy dredging up dirt on her, including releasing details of a messy divorce in which her ex-husband admitted to previous physical abuse. MSNBC would also like you to know that an ex-boyfriend claims she once "stalked" him, though no action was ever taken, and the man in question now says he supports her campaign. The Wehby campaign is hitting back, accusing Beaver State Democrats of waging a war on women.

Also of note, in Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton cruised to a GOP primary victory. The combat veteran officially moves on to lock horns with Democratic Senator Mark Pryor in November. Pryor cast the deciding vote for Obamacare in a state where the law and the president are deeply unpopular. A scion of political privilege, Pryor also bafflingly criticized Cotton's "sense of entitlement" borne out of the Republican's...military service, or something. Depending on what poll you believe, Cotton is narrowly leading Pryor, narrowly trailing him, or is behind by double digits.

I'll leave you with Philip Klein's take on how the media's hackneyed "establishment vs. Tea Party" dynamic has shaken out thus far in the 2014 cycle:

Because the Tea Party has now been around for a half a decade, non-incumbent Senators seeking higher office know that to be competitive in Republican primaries, they have to build up a record that can pass muster, and they've had opportunities to do so. That's how you end up with candidates such as North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, whose victory in the Senate primary was branded as win for the establishment even though as speaker, he fought to block Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Eager to draw some broader lessons from a pretty boring Senate primary, the media have been trying to highlight McConnell's race as marking a shift in Republican politics in which the establishment is reasserting control. In reality, a McConnell win would be perfectly consistent with what has happened in most cases in recent election cycles, even as the Tea Party has had a strong influence.

In short, the so-called 'establishment' may have beaten back (long shot, in most cases) Tea Party challenges, but the grassroots have influenced the GOP's political center of gravity.