Sen. Pat Roberts beat back tea party challenger Milton Wolf in Tuesday’s Kansas Senate primary — keeping intact the perfect record of sitting Republican senators and clearing the way for the veteran lawmaker to secure a fourth term in the November election.
The contest was seen as the second-to-last chance for the insurgent wing of the GOP to send a sitting senator packing in the 2014 primary season, with only Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee left to face a serious challenge in this off-year election cycle.
The Associated Press called the race for Mr. Roberts roughly three hours after the polls closed.
With 87.1 percent of precincts counted, Mr. Roberts, 78, held a lead of 48.2 percent to 40.7 percent — more than nearly 18,000 votes — over Mr. Wolf, a 43-year-old radiologist who has distant family ties to President Obama and who had support from national tea party groups, including Tea Party Patriots and Tea Party Express.
“Senate incumbents remain undefeated this cycle, which offers a strong argument against the idea that we’re in an era of widespread voter revolt against federal officeholders,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Roberts ran a far from perfect race but clearly benefited from a weak opponent who did not excite outside conservative groups.”
Missouri, Michigan and Washington also held primaries Tuesday.
The roles between the warring factions of the GOP were reversed in Michigan, where businessman Dave Trott knocked off Rep. Kerry Bentivolio in the 11th Congressional District.
Mr. Bentivolio had tea party support, but had been billed as the “accidental congressman” after winning the seat in 2012 when Rep. Thad McCotter failed to collect enough signatures to get on the ballot.
Mr. Bentivolio is the third House Republican to lose in a nomination race, following in the footsteps of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rep. Ralph Hall of Texas.
Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, warned against reading too much into the race, saying via Twitter “This race wasn’t GOP [establishment] vs. Tea Party, it was GOP [establishment] vs. accidental Congressman.”
In the 3rd Congressional District, Rep. Justin Amash, whose strong libertarian bent has made him a favorite of the Club for Growth and tea partyers, defeated Brian Ellis, a businessman endorsed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Back in Kansas, Rep. Mike Pompeo won his race against the challenge of ex-Rep. Todd Tiahrt in the state’s 4th Congressional District. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, who has been a thorn in the side of House GOP leaders, also was renominated in the 1st Congressional District.
Heading into the midterms, Republicans need to win six Senate seats to flip control of the chamber.
The Republican establishment has been focused on avoiding a repeat of some of the 2010 and 2012 races in which insurgent candidates ousted incumbents in primaries and lost the seats in the general election. Incumbents survived challenges in Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina and Mississippi.
Ford O’Connell, a Republican Party strategist, said the losses could spark some soul-searching among the GOP’s anti-establishment forces.