Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell looks poised to comfortably win renomination next month, despite a serious challenge from tea party opponent Matt Bevin. But what’s equally important for McConnell is that he’s outlined a strategy to neutralize the tea party grassroots — and he’s winning.
— Back in March, McConnell told the NYT he planned to “crush” conservative outside groups, even airing an ad attacking the Bevin-backing Senate Conservatives Fund in his own race. Since then, outside establishment groups like the Chamber of Commerce and Crossroads have been unusually active in GOP primaries, working to nominate more-electable candidates. It’s looking like the establishment has the momentum in every consequential race — even in races where the battle lines are less defined.
— The tactics are multifaceted: In races featuring vulnerable incumbents, establishment groups have hit the challengers hard, both on TV and with embarrassing opposition research. To help Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), the NRSC circulated clips of old radio talk shows where state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) made racially-insensitive and sexist comments. To help Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the committee hit radiologist Milton Wolf (R) for posting comments about corpses on Facebook. Even the Chamber of Commerce, which rarely goes on the attack, has aired ads portraying GOP challengers in Mississippi and Idaho as “trial lawyers.” A newly-created super PAC with ties to GOP donors Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer attacked Rep. Phil Gingrey, viewed as the weaker candidate in the Georgia Senate race.
— Establishment groups have also been willing to use lower-profile measures to help favored candidates. In North Carolina, American Crossroads is pouring in over $1 million in positive biographical spots to help state House Speaker Thom Tillis avoid a runoff. In Idaho, the Chamber cut an ad featuring Mitt Romney‘s endorsement of Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID), who is facing Club for Growth-backed opponent Bryan Smith. In Georgia, the Chamber endorsed Rep. Jack Kingston (R) in a crowded Senate primary.
If the GOP wins back the Senate majority, the next two months of primaries will be seen as a crucial period, where outside establishment groups effectively organized to back more-electable candidates, outmaneuvering the grassroots. Or as anti-establishment RedState.com editor Erick Erickson put it: “The establishment intends to cling to their precious.”
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