- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to “crush” the tea party in this primary election season, and the Kentucky Republican did his part Tuesday night by winning a landslide primary victory over businessman Matt Bevin — the latest victory for the Republican establishment.

The Associated Press and other news outlets called the race for Mr. McConnell minutes after the polls closed, setting the table for a battle royal this fall between the 72-year-old Republican, whose job approval rating is underwater after 30 years in Washington, and 35-year-year old Alison Lundergan Grimes, who easily won the Democratic nomination and is considered one of her party’s prized Senate recruits.

With 99 percent of the precincts counted, Mrs. Grimes had captured more than 76 percent of the Democratic vote, while Mr. McConnell had received 60 percent of the Republican vote, compared with nearly 36 percent for Mr. Bevin.

Five states held primaries Tuesday for various federal and state offices, including in Georgia, where there will be a race this fall to replace retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

With 87 percent of the precincts reporting in Georgia, wealthy businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston had captured 30 percent and 26 percent of the vote, respectively — enough to advance to a runoff race this summer.

Former Secretary of State Karen Handel, meanwhile, was running third with 22 percent of the vote, failing to move on despite having been endorsed by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.

Farther back were Rep. Paul Broun — who was endorsed by the Madison Project — with almost 9.9 percent and Rep. Phil Gingrey with 9.8 percent.

Mr. Perdue and Mr. Kingston will now face off in a July 22 runoff contest for the GOP nomination and the chance to face off against Democrat Michelle Nunn — a first-time candidate and the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, who easily won her party’s nomination.

In other races, Monica Wehby, a pro-choice brain surgeon, was declared the winner in the contested GOP primary in Oregon, opening the door for her to shift her attention to toppling Democrat Jeff Merkley in the November election.

In Arkansas, Rep. Tom Cotton won the uncontested Senate Republican primary, paving the way for a long awaited showdown against Democratic Sen. Mark L. Pryor, a top GOP target in the midterm election.

And in Idaho, Rep. Michael K. Simpson defeated his tea party-backed challenger, Bryan Smith, in the state’s 2nd Congressional District.

On the Democratic side, businessman Tom Wolf won the nomination for governor in Pennsylvania, setting up a clash with Gov. Tom Corbett, who is thought to be one of the most vulnerable governors in the country.

With polls in Kentucky showing they are running neck and neck in the general election, Mr. McConnell and Mrs. Grimes celebrated their victories by trading sharp jabs over gender politics and the power of incumbency.

Mr. McConnell said his wife, former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, inspired him by becoming the “only Kentucky woman in history to be a member of a president’s Cabinet” and that his mother instilled a fighting spirit in him.
He warned that Mrs. Grimes would be a partisan pawn for President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

“A vote for my opponent is a vote for a guy who says coal makes you sick,” Mr. McConnell said. “A vote for my opponent is a vote for a guy who thinks nothing of this state if he thinks about it at all. A vote for my opponent is a vote for Obamacare and the president who sold it to us on a mountain of lies.”

Mrs. Grimes countered by saying she is a “strong” and “independent” Kentucky woman who will not be a rubber stamp for the Obama administration.

She said she opposes the Obama administration’s “war on coal” and that Mr. McConnell’s opposition to an increase in the minimum wage, the Paycheck Fairness Act and the Violence Against Women Act shows he is out of touch with voters.

“Sen. McConnell, if you can’t stand up to vote to protect Kentucky’s women against violence, you don’t deserve to be a United States senator,” Mrs. Grimes said.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which endorsed Mr. McConnell, said the Kentucky race will be a top priority for the business community.

“We were involved early and in partnership with the local business community, and will continue to be active highlighting the stark contrast between McConnell and his opponent on issues that will drive America’s economic recovery,” said Rob Engstrom, the group’s national political director.

The Senate races in Georgia and Kentucky are seen as the Democrats’ best bets for flipping Republican-held seats and putting a dent in the Republican push to pick up the six net seats they need to seize control of the Senate.

Mr. McConnell made it clear this year that he did not want a repeat of the past two election cycles. Insurgent candidates won primaries in Delaware and Nevada in 2010 and in Indiana and Missouri in 2012, then lost general election races that were deemed winnable.

“I think we are going to crush them everywhere,” Mr. McConnell told the New York Times, alluding to Senate challenges. “I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country.”

The remarks angered tea party-aligned groups.

The Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, the Tea Party Patriots and the Madison Project supported Mr. Bevin. They accused Mr. McConnell of selling out basic conservative principles and giving too much ground to Democrats in battles over spending, debt and taxes.

But Mr. Bevin failed to gain much traction against the deep-rooted incumbent, thanks to a combination of rookie missteps and a barrage of spending from the McConnell camp and its allies.

Indeed, Mr. McConnell raised more than $21 million and spent more than $11.3 million, while Mr. Bevin raised over $3.6 million and spent $3.3 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Outside groups also spent $1.4 million on Mr. McConnell’s behalf, including more than $1 million from the Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Bevin had $668,000 spent on his behalf and benefited from more than $1.1 million that was spent against Mr. McConnell.

Drew Ryun, political director of the Madison Project, said Mr. Bevin struggled to overcome the incumbent’s financial advantage.

“The fact that McConnell, the man who pushed TARP, could label Bevin as ‘Bailout Bevin’ is proof of this,” Mr. Ryun said, adding that the establishment has been much better prepared for tea party-backed challengers this election cycle.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, found a silver lining in the Kentucky results, saying the party establishment is now running on the limited government stances that the tea party has been promoting for years.

“Constitutional conservatives and libertarians are setting the agenda in the Republican Party,” Mr. Kibbe said. “Matt Bevin’s principled challenge helped Sen. McConnell rediscover his conservative principles [for] November.”

The one bright spot for the tea party has been the Nebraska primary, where Ben Sasse, a university president who served in President George W. Bush’s administration, defeated former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, who had the backing of some Washington establishment groups.

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