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The tea party is losing

Kentucky Senate candidate Matt Bevin (R). (AP Photo: Kevin Goldy/The Independent)

A trio of new polls Monday from NBC News and Marist College confirm an emerging trend of the 2014 primary season: the Republican establishment has the upper hand over the tea party.

House Speaker Thom Tillis's (R) outright win in the North Carolina Senate primary last week -- he avoided a primary runoff against tea party opposition -- was seen as a step in the right direction for a GOP establishment that has struggled mightily to figure out how to beat back such primary challenges.

The new polls confirm that things continue to be headed in the GOP's direction.

In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is having very little trouble with his challenger, businessman Matt Bevin. He leads Bevin 57 percent to 25 percent with just one week left until primary day (May 20).

The establishment also appears primed for a pretty significant win in another state holding its primary that same day: Georgia.

Tea party-aligned Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun lag behind, tied for fourth place, in the open primary to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.). Businessman David Perdue leads at 23 percent, followed by Rep. Jack Kingston at 18 percent and former secretary of state Karen Handel at 14 percent. Gingrey and Broun are at 11 percent and are also the second choices of relatively few voters. The national GOP favors Perdue, Kingston and Handel.

In each race, the polls suggest the tea party is basically out of contention heading into the final week. That's especially huge for the GOP establishment, because these are arguably the two races where it had the most to lose come November.

In Kentucky, Bevin began his race as a cause celebre for the tea party in a race that is both hugely symbolic for the tea party and hugely important in the 2014 campaign. A loss or a close call for the Republican leader of the Senate would be seen as a significant rebuke of his leadership and a bad omen for his chances in the general election, where he's locked in a virtual tie with Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).

Georgia, meanwhile, loomed as the most apparent potential disaster for Republicans if they got the wrong candidate. National GOP strategists worried pretty openly from the beginning that Broun -- or, to a lesser extent, Gingrey -- would imperil their chances of holding a seat in a state that still leans clearly red and where Democrats have a solid recruit in Michelle Nunn.

Barring some strange last-minute shifts, neither man is even threatening to make the two-candidate runoff.

As it stands, the GOP looks to have avoided really serious primary problems in the two seats they will have to defend this year. There remain some tea party vs. establishment primaries out there, but most of them are happening in states that shouldn't really be in-play in the general election -- Mississippi, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska -- which means they matter far less to the national GOP than states like Kentucky and Georgia.

For now, the GOP establishment appears to have dodged some pretty major bullets.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.

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