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Does the tea party still have the juice?

BY Domenico Montanaro, Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  May 1, 2014 at 8:58 AM EDT
Is the tea party still alive and well in Texas? The state's primary runoff election is May 27. File photo of a 2011 tea party rally in Austin by Ben Sklar/Getty Images

Is the tea party still alive and well in Texas? The state’s primary runoff election is May 27. File photo of a 2011 tea party rally in Austin by Ben Sklar/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • How might tea party vs. establishment storyline play out?
  • May brings 13 primaries
  • Laying out the calendar
  • Your guide to this month’s races

Let the elections begin! The midterm election primary season kicks off in earnest Tuesday with elections in North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana. Get this: There are 13 states with primaries in May. It’s always nice when instead of just talking about races, you get results. The overarching question for May: does the tea party still have the juice? In races this month in places like Kentucky and Georgia, “establishment” candidates appear poised to beat conservative challenges. But in North Carolina, Texas and Idaho, the tea party is once again threatening. The GOP appears to have learned the lessons of 2010, when many Republicans argue tea party challengers cost them control of the Senate. To that point, Democrats concede Republican establishment candidates will probably prevail in many of May’s races, but only because, they say, the GOP has co-opted the tea party. “It’s clear the tea party and the extreme right wing have overtaken the GOP establishment,” Justin Barasky, press secretary for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told Morning Line. “That’s why so many establishment candidates will be nominees — even though they’re no different than Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, etc.” Colorado’s Buck and Nevada’s Angle are two of the candidates blamed for GOP’s 2010 inability to make bigger gains in the Senate.

The long road to November: Democrats also believe (maybe hope?) candidates like Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, North Carolina state House Speaker Thom Tillis and whoever gets through the Georgia primary will be bruised, having had to use resources to beat back primary opponents. But Republicans would argue, it’s still six months out from the general election and those candidates will have plenty of time to replenish resources and mend fences with the base. One race to watch down the road that could be a game-changer is Mississippi. Public and private polls show incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran up by a lot against state Sen. Chris McDaniel, a tea party challenger, but establishment Republicans are taking nothing for granted. They are doing everything they can to beat him, because they worry his past remarks would not only put Mississippi on the table for Democrats, but also become potentially damaging for other Republicans across the country, who would need to answer if they support McDaniel.

Here’s the May primary calendar followed by a look at the state of play of “establishment” vs. tea party in some key states and some of the other key races to watch:

May 6: Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio
May 13: Nebraska, West Virginia
May 20: Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania
May 27: Texas runoff

North Carolina: The big story to watch Tuesday is whether Tillis surpasses the 40 percent threshold to move onto the general election — or if he gets dragged into a runoff by Greg Bannon, a doctor and tea party challenger backed by Rand Paul, or Mark Harris, an evangelical pastor. Polls have shown Tillis close to or surpassing the mark. Republicans think momentum is on Tillis’ side. They sure hope so, anyway, because a runoff would mean Tillis having to spend another two months not focusing on vulnerable Democrat Kay Hagan. A runoff would take place July 15. How much do Democrats want Tillis to get stuck in a runoff? Listen to this ad that implies Tillis thinks the health care law is a “great idea” — and it’s paid for by Hagan. … And in the House, 10-term Rep. Walter Jones is facing a serious challenge from Taylor Griffin, a former Bush aide and GOP consultant. Jones took a hard turn against the Iraq war, has voted against Republican budgets and aligned with some Ron Paul groups. None of it won the praise of the GOP-led House leadership. … Also, can former American Idol star Clay Aiken make it through a Democratic primary in a potentially competitive seat.

Nebraska: Tea Party groups, Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Sarah Palin have all thrown their support behind Ben Sasse, president of Midland University. The state establishment candidate is state Treasurer Shane Osborn. They are locked in a tight race, the results of which will likely determine the next U.S. senator from the Cornhusker State.

Georgia: Polls have shown former Dollar General and Reebok CEO David Perdue, Rep. Jack Kingston and former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel ahead. Republicans would prefer any of those three to Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun, who are seen as less disciplined and weaker against Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn.

Idaho: GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is the establishment pick and is trying to fend off a challenge from lawyer Bryan Smith, who has the backing of the Club for Growth. The Chamber of Commerce has gone in for Simpson and so has Mitt Romney, who appears in an ad for the eight-term congressman. Romney holds particular sway in Idaho, because 23 percent of the state is Mormon, the second-highest percentage in the country behind Utah.

Kentucky: McConnell appears to have a solid lead over tea party challenger Matt Bevin. But he faces the challenge of bringing those conservatives home to stave off a strong challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Oregon: Everyone’s watching to see if pro-abortion rights Republican Monica Wehby, a physician who has run one of the most powerful biographical ads of this campaign, gets through the Senate primary against state Rep. Jason Conger. Republicans believe she’d have an outside chance of giving incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley a real race.

Pennsylvania: Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is among the most, if not THE most, vulnerable incumbents in the country. But Democrats haven’t sorted out who will take him on. Businessman/kitchen-cabinet-maker Tom Wolf, who served as Gov. Ed Rendell’s Secretary of Revenue, is well ahead in the polls, having leapfrogged Rep. Allyson Schwartz with big ad spending. He’s poured in $10 million of his own money into the campaign. Democrats debated Wednesday and have another debate Thursday and will surely be aiming for Wolf, who has never run for office before.

Texas: The big tea party vs. establishment fight here is in the lieutenant governor’s race. And before you dismiss a down-ballot race like this one, consider that Republicans are concerned that if the tea party candidate, state Sen. Dan Patrick, upends David Dewhurst — and he is favored to do just that — then Democrat Leticia Van de Putte, a Latina state senator, could have a real chance. If she does pull it off, she would be the first Democrat elected statewide in this now-majority-minority state in 20 years. And if that happens, forget Wendy Davis, the current Democratic nominee for governor, Van de Putte would likely be the real rising star with a jump off to run for governor down the line. … Republican incumbent congressman Ralph Hall, the oldest member of Congress at 91, is in a fight for his political career, facing a challenge from former U.S. Attorney John Ratcliffe, 48. Hall’s age has become a subtle, but primary issue. Both are vying for the tea party vote.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 2003, President George W. Bush declared that major hostilities were over in Iraq, during his famous “Mission Accomplished” speech. Exactly 8 years later, an American president made another notable announcement; what was it?
Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia, and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Yesterday’s trivia correctly. The answer was: Washington received 100 percent of the vote and ran more or less unopposed except for the 11 men vying for the number two seat as Vice President.

LINE ITEMS

  • A newly-released email has the White House on the defensive again over the administration’s role in shaping talking points for then-U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice following the attacks on U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in September 2012. The email was obtained by the conservative group Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request. Conservative critics say the document offers further proof that the narrative provided by the administration after the attacks was politically motivated. The White House denies the email was specifically related to Benghazi.

  • By a vote of 54-42, the Senate failed to move forward on debate over increasing the minimum wage.

  • But the New York Times notes that even though two-thirds of Americans support an increase in the wage, according to the latest CBS-New York Times poll, it’s not at all clear that it’s a motivating issue.

  • Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., is standing by remarks in which he called Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas an “Uncle Tom,” Mitch McConnell a “racist,” and blamed opposition to President Obama on the president being black.

  • Speaking before a Senate Rules Committee hearing on “dark money,” retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Wednesday “money is not speech” and urged Congress to amend the Constitution to limit campaign spending.

  • Military sexual assault claims rose by 50 percent in 2013, which the Pentagon attributes to victims feeling more comfortable coming forward.

  • House Speaker John Boehner is having a “minor” back procedure.

  • Over candy bars and soda, about 10 House GOP members gathered in Sen. Ted Cruz’s office Tuesday night to discuss Speaker Boehner’s comments about immigration and leadership elections.

  • Politico reports that conservative opponents of immigration reform are coordinating efforts to make sure GOP leaders don’t move forward with an overhaul this year.

  • House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan met with the Congressional Black Caucus on Wednesday to discuss poverty reduction following his comments about a culture of poverty in inner cities. South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn reported that Ryan didn’t apologize for his remarks, “and nobody asked him to, either.”

  • Perhaps in an attempt to help Hillary Clinton’s potential 2016 run, former President Bill Clinton defended his economic legacy at Georgetown University Wednesday night.

  • Clinton leads former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush 49 percent to 41 percent among Florida voters in a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

  • Examining Clinton’s relationship with the press in Politico Magazine, Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman hear from Clinton confidantes who say any ambivalence about running in 2016 stems from her discomfort with the media.

  • Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid cited the NBA’s lifetime ban of Donald Sterling to urge the NFL to force the Washington Redskins to change the team’s nickname.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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