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2014 midterm races to test Tea Party's power to last

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By USA Today
Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, 9:42 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The 2014 primary election season that kicks off on March 4 may serve as a test of the Tea Party's ability to shape the Republican Party.

The movement that became a potent political force in the 2010 elections and helped Republicans retake control of the House is at war with the Republican establishment and taking on GOP incumbents in a handful of key races.

All but one of six Tea Party challenges to Senate Republican incumbents this year are in states where a primary victory is tantamount to a general election victory.

“If they (Tea Party candidates) don't do well, if they can't do it in red states against incumbents, then how effective are they really?” asked Jennifer Duffy, a nonpartisan election analyst for The Cook Political Report.

Though anti-incumbent candidates have uphill battles and few advantages in 2014, there is no less enthusiasm among Tea Party activists and candidates seeking to upend the status quo.

“It's really about establishment incumbents who have been here way too long. They've gotten comfortable with business as usual vs. people in America and the candidates that represent them who actually want to come here and do what they said they were going to do,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party group that has endorsed a handful of candidates this cycle.

Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas is poised to easily dispatch his March 4 primary challenger, Rep. Steve Stockman, who never mustered the statewide organization or fundraising to mount a serious challenge.

Tennessee's Sen. Lamar Alexander is likewise the heavy favorite in his August primary race against state Rep. Joe Carr.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is more likely to run into trouble from his likely Democratic challenger, Alison Lundergan Grimes, than his May primary opponent, Matt Bevin. McConnell led Bevin by 26 percentage points in a recent poll.

Duffy says Mississippi's Thad Cochran, 76, is the most vulnerable Senate Republican, largely because he hasn't had a tough race since 1984.

“He's been moving away from our conservative base for an awful long time,” said Chris McDaniel, a state senator and Cochran's leading opponent.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., has a spirited challenge from Milton Wolf, a distant cousin of President Obama's.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has amassed at least five opponents for his contest. Unless Graham can muster 50 percent in the primary June 10, which is difficult in a crowded field, he will face a one-on-one runoff two weeks later. Runoff primaries can be politically perilous for incumbents because they generally have even lower turnout than primaries.

While the anti-establishment outside groups are focused on the Senate, where control of the chamber is up for grabs, three veteran GOP incumbents in the House — Reps. Pete Sessions of Texas, Mike Simpson of Idaho and Bill Shuster of Pennsylvania — have high-profile primary challenges.

Shuster faces a Tea Party-aligned Coast Guard retiree, Art Halvorson, who has failed to raise the kind of money that makes incumbents pause.



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