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Tea Party beginning to fizzle

On the one hand, the Tea Party this week enjoyed its biggest primary victory of the year in Nebraska, where favored candidate Ben Sasse won the GOP primary in the state. (Of course, other parts of the Republican Party were pro-Sasse as well.) On the other hand, the Tea Party is staring at the real possibility of a series of defeats in the upcoming contests in May and June. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell appears to be cruising his way to primary victory over Mitt Bevin. In Georgia’s Senate contest, the top-two Republicans in the polls are establishment favs David Perdue and Jack Kingston. In Idaho’s heated congressional primary, First Read confirms a Wall Street Journal report from earlier in the week that the Club for Growth has essentially pulled back from the race and hasn’t aired a TV ad there since April -- a sign that incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) is in strong shape. And then in June, what happens if Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) go on to win their primaries in Mississippi and South Carolina? Bottom line: The outlook for the Tea Party in the next four weeks looks bleak. Things can always change, of course, but the GOP establishment finds itself in a stronger position right now than anyone would have thought six months ago. So how have they done it? Perhaps two reasons. One, establishment Republicans took their challengers more seriously and did oppo on them as if they were Democratic opponents. Two, the issue that animated the Tea Party base more than any other -- the debt (remember, that was Santelli’s rant; not health care) -- just doesn’t seem like a crisis anymore. The deficit controls that have been put into place over the last two years seem to have satisfied a significant chunk of the GOP base.

And some conservatives are getting angry because of it

So the good news for the GOP establishment is that it’s winning; the bad news for them is that prominent conservatives are getting angry because of it. Look no further than this Washington Post story. “Although many Republicans are optimistic about their chances in this year’s elections, some of Washington’s leading conservatives gathered Thursday to privately vent frustrations about what kind of party they will be left with after November,” the Post reports. “The group, alarmed by a resurgence of the GOP establishment in recent primaries and what activists view as a softened message, drafted demands to be shared with senior lawmakers calling on the party to ‘recommit’ to bedrock principles. More from the article: “Several attendees said they fear that elected Republicans, even if they succeed in retaining control of the House and winning the Senate majority, would cast aside the core conservative base. ‘Conservatives ought not to delude themselves that if Republicans win the Senate majority, it will somehow be a conservative majority,’ said L. Brent Bozell III, president of the Media Research Center.” Sen. Ted Cruz even addressed the group: “‘Some say, “Yay, our team is winning,” ’ he said, referring to Republicans’ confidence about possibly taking control of the Senate. ‘But we win when we stand for principle and we lose when we give in to Washington’s status quo.’”

May 20th primary updates

In the Idaho congressional GOP primary, an outside group (Citizens for Responsible Energy Solutions) praises incumbent Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) in a TV ad, while challenger Bryan Smith has a TV ad of his own calling himself the true conservative in the race…. In Georgia, Rick Santorum backed Karen Handel (he also has backed Jason Conger in Oregon)… In Kentucky, Matt Bevin loaned his campaign an additional $350,000, bringing his self-financing total to $1.25 million in his uphill challenge against Mitch McConnell… In Oregon, Politico reports that GOP establishment favorite Monica Wehby “was accused by her ex-boyfriend last year of ‘stalking’ him, entering his home without his permission and ‘harassing’ his employees, according to a Portland, Oregon police report.”… And in Pennsylvania, a Franklin & Marshall poll found Tom Wolf at 33%, Allyson Schwartz at 14%, Rob McCord at 9%, and Katie McGinty at 5%; 39% of registered Dems are undecided. Schwartz is up with her closing TV ad. And it appears that Marjorie Margolies didn’t attend the NYC fundraiser that Hillary Clinton showed up for; then again, that Pennsylvania primary is just a few days away.

Shinseki’s shaky day on the Hill

On Capitol Hill yesterday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki did little to slow down the VA scandal story when he testified before Congress. “Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the ranking Republican on the committee, chastised Mr. Shinseki, saying, ‘V.A.’s leadership has either failed to connect the dots, or failed to address this ongoing crisis,’” the New York Times says. “The chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Representative Jeff Miller, a Florida Republican, criticized Mr. Shinseki’s performance as ‘out of touch’ and said it showed why Mr. Obama ‘felt compelled to assign someone from the White House to help clean up the mess at the department.’” Our take: Shinseki sounded too much like a bureaucrat and not enough like a general.

GOP has a potentially good story to tell when it comes to female candidates

Turning back to the midterms… Experiencing a gender gap in races and in the polls, and facing a barrage of attacks from Democrats for waging a “war on women,” the Republican Party has a POTENTIALLY good story to come Nov. 2014 -- all of its female candidates running for the Senate. It’s early, of course, but look at all the Republican women who have a CHANCE at winning in November. Shelley Moore Capito in West Virginia. Joni Ernst in Iowa. Terri Lynn Land in Michigan. Karen Handel in Georgia (though she’s got to finish in the top-two next week to have a shot). And Monica Wehby in Oregon. We’ve said all along that Democratic women -- both candidates and voters -- have a chance to save Democrats in November. But Republicans might have a good story to tell here, too.

Idaho debate gets very weird, very fast

Finally, this is our favorite story of the week -- Wednesday’s wacky Idaho GOP gubernatorial debate. “What happens when you put a sitting governor, a biker named ‘Harley’ and a man with a fantastic Santa Claus beard on stage together? Answer: This astonishing hour-long Idaho GOP primary debate, which included racial jokes, a nuclear conspiracy theory, and such spicy biographical details as that time one candidate was ‘livin in Fat Jack’s cellar.’ This is what happens when you let ALL the candidates in the debate. ‘You have your choice, folks,’ perennial candidate Harley Brown declared. ‘A cowboy, a curmudgeon, a biker, or a normal guy. Take your pick.’” Laugh track aside, the mere fact this debate took place is a sign of just how nervous incumbent Gov. Butch Otter is about his lone serious primary challenger, Russ Fulcher. Otter refused to debate Fulcher without allow everyone who was on the ballot onto the debate stage… Hence, we got a side show… By the way, Fulcher is not happy about it. Today, the front page of the Idaho Statesman contains a story about how the wacky debate went viral.

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