With primaries in Kentucky, Idaho, Georgia and Oregon tomorrow, it may be a brutal reality check for the tea party, for outside groups who’ve vowed to spend millions to unseat GOP incumbents and for Democrats who have been counting on rotten opponents. Here are five ways to assess the GOP’s direction:
1. What is the margin of Sen. Mitch McConnell’s victory: If as expected he wins by double digits the groups (e.g. Madison Project, Senate Conservatives Fund) that made him their number one target, when they should have been roughing up the Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes will have some questions to answer. (Why are they wasting donors money?)
2. Who finishes first and second in Georgia?: If both tea party extremists finish at the bottom of the heap it will be one more sign the GOP voters have turned toward mainstream, electable candidates. As Real Clear Politics explained it:
Perdue is a self-funder with experience as a corporate turnaround specialist (he’s a former CEO of Reebok, Dollar General and Pillowtex), and those companies’ record of job loss has drawn comparisons to Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital tenure. Kingston is an appropriator who has been serving his Savannah district in Congress for 22 years and has support from the Chamber of Commerce and Fox News host Sean Hannity. And Handel is something of a Tea Party-establishment hybrid, with past legislative experience, a near win in the 2010 governor’s race against Nathan Deal, and endorsements from Sarah Palin, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum, and conservative blogger Erick Erickson.
The GOP will breathe a sigh of relief if Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey get trounced. Another bonus: The two gadflies will be out of the House, two fewer back benchers for House leadership to manage.
3. Does Dr. Monica Wehby win solidly? She ran some of the most effective ads of the campaign and ran as a moderate, anti-Obamacare outsider. If she is victorious, that will be a healthy sign for Republicans in deep blue states who are learning to run competitive candidates. If she wins, her opponent Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Or.) will need to take the race seriously, potentially drawing money away from more critical races in swing states.
4. Who wins in Idaho? A GOP insider remarks that after ballyhooed “Primary My Congressman” initiative – the Club for Growth appears to have gone mute, leaving their candidate Bryan Smith hanging out to dry in the final weeks. (CFG claims to have shifted resources to Ben Sasse, but his runaway win did not seem to be in doubt as that Senate race came to an end.) Its spokesman’s explanation Monday was somewhat unintelligible. (“Sometimes we run TV ads, and sometimes we don’t. It’s never about each individual race. It’s about pro-growth policy and replacing people who vote against it with people who won’t.” Huh?) In contrast, the Defending Main Street Super PAC led by former Rep. Steve LaTourette, and other groups like the U.S. Chamber are still firmly behind Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho). CFG has been more selective than groups like SCF, FreedomWorks, Madison Project and other tea party-type groups, but in this case they seem to have all bet on the losing horse.
5. How’s the GOP turnout? If there is healthy turnout in competitive Senate primary races for the GOP that exceeds Democratic turnout, that may confirmation that GOP excitement and intensity are still rising. If the GOP can keep those people engaged until November, Democrats may be facing that dreaded wave election.