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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Pouring millions into a once-safe seat is just what the GOP has done: Only three Senate races have cost more for the party and outside groups than the one in Indiana.Skip to next paragraph
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Conservative strategists say Lugar's days in the Senate were numbered anyway. Indeed, fewer than 1 in 5 Indiana voters in the GOP primary said they backed Mourdock because of his tea party ideological bent, observed veteran Indiana political analyst Brian Howey recently. Most primary voters said they believed that Lugar was too old or had been in Washington too long.
And Mourdock, for all his foibles, may yet pull out a win, helped along by a strong gubernatorial candidate in the GOP's Mike Pence and Mitt Romney’s wide lead in the state. One recent poll showed Mourdock trailing Donnelly by 11 percentage points. Mourdock’s campaign released its own internal figures showing the race tied.
In Missouri, Representative Akin's comments about “legitimate rape” in August led Mr. Romney and vaunted Republican strategist Karl Rove to treat the party’s Senate nominee as something more dangerous than radioactive. Polls that once showed Akin as an almost sure-fire winner over Senator McCaskill – a seat GOP strategists had marked down for two years as a near-certain pick-up – now show him cruising toward an almost-certain loss.
“I’d hate to say that anything is impossible,” says Dr. Calfano of Missouri State University. “But he’s done the exercise where he’s said, ‘I’m going to try to dig the biggest hole that I can and see if I can get out of it.’ He doesn’t have enough time to close the gap.”
But Akin’s candidacy was not powered by the third-party conservative groups or narrowly focused fiscal conservative voters that Official Republicans in Washington blame in part for the passel of poor Senate candidates in 2010. In fact, conservative groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth stood up for other candidates in a crowded Missouri GOP primary field that Akin bested by a small plurality. Akin, whose political base has long been anchored among evangelical Christians, was until very recently a staunch defender of earmarks, politically directed congressional spending seen as wasteful by most tea partyers.
Though tea party forces dispute suggestions that an Election Day underperformance in Senate contests should be laid at their doorstep, groups like those run by Mr. Kibbe have learned something from the trials of 2010 and 2012. They say they intend to give prospective endorsees a more thorough grilling in future years, with an eye toward voters in a general election.
While FreedomWorks doesn’t evaluate candidates on social issues, it will be asking candidates about them for the first time in the 2014 cycle to make sure a candidate with the right fiscal mind-set isn’t going to implode on other topics.
“You have to be able to articulate your position” on social issues like abortion, Kibbe says, “in a way that doesn’t hurt your ability to win.”
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