- Associated Press - Saturday, June 6, 2015

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Last year, tea party Virginians were livid with Virginia Beach Republican state Sen. Frank Wagner.

The anger stemmed from Wagner’s bid to win the chairmanship of the GOP Second Congressional District by using an obscure parliamentary technique known as “slating.” Wagner’s efforts were part of a broader push by establishment Republicans to take back control of the state party from the tea party, a campaign that not only failed but helped fuel Dave Brat’s improbable victory over then-U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Wagner was viewed as a top target for a tea party primary challenge. Someone even created a Facebook page called “Primary Frank Wagner,” complete with a picture of Wagner posing next to Cantor. But come Tuesday, when Virginia voters cast votes in a handful of primary contests around the state, there will be no contest featuring Wagner. No one challenged him for the Republican nomination.

For some establishment Republicans, Wagner’s opponent-less path is symbolic of a broader theme: that the tea party’s influence in Virginia politics is waning.

“It appears the pendulum is swinging back toward the establishment,” said former Republican Del. Joe May. “The tea party tends to be pretty vocal, and I haven’t seen nearly as much of that.”

Two years ago, tea party candidates - angry with some House Republicans for voting to increase taxes as part of a massive transportation package - took out two longtime House Republicans, including May.

Then Brat’s historic upset over Cantor last year showed that no establishment Republican was safe in Virginia, no matter how powerful.

But this cycle, few political watchers are expecting the tea party to flex any serious muscle.

The tea party’s biggest chance to make a splash is Susan Stimpson’s challenge to GOP House Speaker William J. Howell. But the 28-year incumbent has vowed not to repeat mistakes made by Cantor and has devoted significant resources to assuring his re-election.

In another House race, tea party incumbent Del. Mark Berg faces a rare disadvantage for office holders: having less money than his primary opponent. Berg, who beat a moderate Republican in a primary last cycle, has raised about $20,000 less than his more moderate opponent.

Sen. Emmett Hanger, one of three Republican senators that sided with Democrats on expanding Medicaid during last year’s legislative session, is facing two tea party primary opponents. Americans for Prosperity, a nonprofit tea party group backed by billionaire oil magnates David and Charles Koch, went on the offensive against Hanger over Medicaid issues in 2013 but has stayed out of this year’s primary contest.

“They basically stood down,” said Hanger, who said smaller outside tea party groups have still been active against him in his race.

Waverly Woods, former head of the Hampton Roads Tea Party, said the conservative movement is still strong in Virginia. But she said it’s difficult to find candidates willing to take on incumbents, who tend to be much better funded than primary challengers, and subject themselves to the negative attention inherent in politics.

“People don’t want to be involved in that,” Woods said.

As for Wagner, tea party activists tried unsuccessfully to recruit two primary candidates to run against him, according to Woods. But she said just because those efforts failed doesn’t mean tea party Republicans won’t let Wagner feel their displeasure in other ways. She said that many of them will simply stay home in the November general election, when Wagner is expected to face a well-financed Democratic opponent.

“It will be divine intervention if (Wagner) survives November,” she said.

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