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If GOP misfires on bid for Senate takeover, is tea party to blame?

Tea party conservatives are likely to take a drubbing from the Republican establishment if their Senate champions falter on Election Day. But tea partyers dispute any suggestion that they are to blame if Democrats keep control of the US Senate.

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Considering those factors, the argument that conservatives cost the party a Senate majority in 2012 “is a very selective narrative,” says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a fiscally conservative group that helped prevent Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah from winning the party nomination in 2010.

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But some party regulars continue to see problems stemming from the influence of the far right on the nominating process.

"You can go back to the last cycle [in 2010] in Nevada, Colorado, and Delaware, in the Republican primaries where we elected the least-electable Republican. You've got a couple this time in Missouri and Indiana" where the GOP nominee snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory, says former Rep. Tom Davis (R) of Virginia, who previously served as chairman of the party’s group devoted to electing Republicans to the House. "This would be five Senate seats basically we've blown by just nominating the least-electable candidates."
 
"Candidates matter," says Mr. Davis, and the Republican Party does not "have any enforcement mechanism to bring your strongest candidates to bear."

There is no question that Mr. Mourdock in Indiana and Mr. Akin in Missouri have hurt the GOP this cycle. What's up for debate is whether the party's conservative base bears much responsibility for their political meltdowns. 

First, Indiana. 

One week before Election Day, Mr. Donnelly, the Democrat, cut a simple ad against Mourdock. It’s called “Opinion,” but it could also be called “Richard’s Greatest Hits,” because it recounts all of Mourdock's controversial statements over the course of the campaign.

“Not only has Richard Mourdock said he wants to ‘inflict’ his opinions on us,” said Elizabeth Shappell, Donnelly’s communications director, in a statement. “He has questioned the constitutionality of Social Security and Medicare, he said pregnancies resulting from rape are something God intended, and claimed he didn’t take a pledge to support every job in Indiana.”

Mourdock’s performance has put in doubt the GOP's ability to hold onto the seat now held by Sen. Richard Lugar (R)

“Whatever else you think about the Mourdock race, it was a safe seat” with Senator Lugar, whom Mourdock throttled in the primary, says Mr. Davis. “It was a seat we wouldn’t have to worry about it. This way, if we do win it, we’re out there spending millions and millions of dollars that we could reallocate” to other races.

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