The Tea Party’s Tests

UNITED STATES Ð AUGUST 12: Rep. Paul Broun, M.D., R-Ga., arrives to hold his town hall meeting at the Oglethorpe County Farm Bureau in Crawford, Ga., on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013. 
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Josh Kraushaar
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Josh Kraushaar
March 20, 2014, 7:49 a.m.

When it comes to tea party groups, most me­dia at­ten­tion has fo­cused on races where they’re chal­len­ging Re­pub­lic­an in­cum­bents like Sen­ate Minor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell. But more con­sequen­tially, they’ll soon have to de­cide wheth­er to back stead­fast con­ser­vat­ives in battle­ground races with elect­ab­il­ity is­sues.

— The three races to watch are in North Car­o­lina, Geor­gia and Iowa. Both the es­tab­lish­ment (NR­SC, Cross­roads) and con­ser­vat­ive groups (Club for Growth, SCF) have largely stayed on the side­lines as large fields battle in all three. But it’s an un­com­fort­able détente. Privately, out­side con­ser­vat­ive groups are en­thu­si­ast­ic about phys­i­cian Greg Bran­non (R-NC), who won Sens. Rand Paul‘s and Mike Lee‘s en­dorse­ments but also faces po­ten­tially dam­aging eth­ics scru­tiny. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) has a near-per­fect score­card from the Club for Growth — plus a his­tory of con­tro­ver­sial com­ments. In Iowa, talk show host Sam Clo­vis (R) is an­oth­er out­spoken con­ser­vat­ive to watch.

— All three of these primar­ies in May and June are likely to prompt field-nar­row­ing run­offs or con­ven­tions. That’s when out­side groups will make tough de­cisions. If, say, Broun makes in­to a run­off against ap­pro­pri­at­or Rep. Jack King­ston (R-GA), will con­ser­vat­ives jump on Broun’s band­wag­on? As part of its ef­forts to back elect­able Re­pub­lic­ans, would Cross­roads back es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ite Thom Tillis (R) in North Car­o­lina?

— For con­ser­vat­ive groups, it’s a ques­tion of wheth­er they want to sal­vage any sort of re­la­tion­ship with the es­tab­lish­ment as the Sen­ate looks in­creas­ingly in play. In the case of the Club for Growth, which made its name by tar­get­ing mod­er­ate Re­pub­lic­ans, it’s had some pro­duct­ive al­li­ances with the es­tab­lish­ment lately, back­ing Tom Cot­ton (R-AR) and Dan Sul­li­van (R-AK). Both those can­did­ates, in crit­ic­al races, are also es­tab­lish­ment fa­vor­ites. But SCF and Freedom­Works, ag­gress­ively back­ing Mc­Con­nell’s chal­lenger, have been much less con­cerned about those niceties.

The tea party’s fu­ture for­tunes could well be writ­ten in the next sev­er­al months. If they en­dorse favored con­ser­vat­ive can­did­ates and get them nom­in­ated, it would be a re­newed meas­ure of their clout. But if those nom­in­ees lose win­nable races, ex­pect an even more heated battle between the es­tab­lish­ment and the Right.
— Josh Kraush­aar

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