McConnell Wins Big Over Tea Party Challenger In Kentucky

May 21, 2014

Updated at 11:07 pm ET

What some called the Super Tuesday of the 2014 mid-term election cycle, with six states holding nominating contests, began with a big win for the Republican establishment.

In Kentucky, Sen. Mitch McConnell’s smack-down of Tea Party-backed businessman Matt Bevin in the GOP primary was an emphatic victory for the five-term senator, who made this bold prediction about other Tea Party-backed Senate challengers earlier this year: “We’re going to crush them everywhere.”

In defeating Bevin 60 percent to 36 percent, McConnell’s clear-cut win suggested he might have a unified Republican party with him in his race against Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who, as expected, also won her primary.

Recent polls have placed McConnell and Grimes in a statistical tie, in a contest likely to be the most expensive Senate race in the 2014 election cycle.

McConnell’s victory reflected his foresight and political adaptability. In 2010, his preferred candidate for an open Senate seat lost to Sen. Rand Paul, the Tea Party favorite that year. Four years later, not only did McConnell beat a Tea Party-backed challenger, he did it with Paul’s support.

Polls in Georgia, like in Kentucky, closed at 7 pm. The Senate race there pitted several Republicans against each other for the nomination to an open Senate seat. The Republicans would be facing Democratic primary winner Michelle Nunn, the daughter of a popular former senator from the state.

As in Kentucky, the Republican race found establishment Republicans confronting candidates with Tea Party backing.

David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and cousin of former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, led all Republicans with about 30 percent of the vote, coming nowhere close to the 50 percent that would avoid a July 22 runoff.

Rep. Jack Kingston, chair of a House Appropriations subcommittee, like Perdue represented the traditional conservative establishment. Kingston was in second place but he was closely trailed by Karen Handel, the former Georgia secretary of state. They were close enough where it wasn’t clear which one of them would face Perdue in July.

Handel, a former senior vice president for public policy at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, was one of several Republicans in the race who represented the GOP’s Tea Party wing. Rep. Paul Broun, who attracted national attention for his infamous comment that evolution and the Big Bang were “lies straight from the pit of hell” and Rep. Phil Gingrey.

The four other states with primaries were Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Idaho and Oregon.

Pennsylvania’s primary to decide the Democratic nominee for governor resulted with businessman Tom Wolf winning by a wide margin, as expected. With 63 percent of precincts reporting, he had 58 percent of the primary vote, while the woman who at one time was thought to be the frontrunner for the nomination, Rep. Allyson Schwartz, was far behind in second place with 18 percent.

In one of the more interesting House races, Marjorie Margolies, whose son is married to Chelsea Clinton, lost in her attempt to regain her old House seat. Schwartz, who has held the seat gave up her chance at re-election to the House to run for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Brendan Boyle, a state representative, beat Margolies in the Democratic primary despite the help she got from President Bill Clinton who cut a campaign ad for her.

In Arkansas, Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and Republican Rep. Tom Cotton were expected to easily win their parties’ Senate nominations.

In Idaho, eight-term congressman Rep. Mike Simpson faced a challenge from Tea Party-backed Bryan Smith, who drew early support from the Club for Growth but found that backing waning as the Chamber of Commerce and other establishment groups rallied behind the incumbent.

Oregon’s Republican primary featured Dr. Monica Wehby, who faced a Tea Party-backed challenger, Jason Conger, a state representative. Both sought the GOP nomination against first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.

In the final days before the primary, Wehby’s candidacy was rocked by allegations that she had stalked an ex-boyfriend and that her ex-husband had complained of her post-divorce behavior as well.

The impact of that late-breaking controversy on the race could be minimal, since many of the ballots in Oregon were already mailed in when that information became public.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit

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