Is the party over? Tea party shut out in Tuesday's primaries

Dylan Stableford
Yahoo News

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Five months ahead of the 2014 midterm elections, the tea party, which was a key factor in the 2010 midterm elections, appears to be losing its influence.

In Tuesday's Republican primaries, tea party-backed candidates were shut out against more established members of the GOP.

• In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell won easily over the tea party's preferred challenger, Matt Bevin.

• In Oregon, pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby defeated tea party-endorsed state Rep. Jason Conger in the GOP Senate primary.

• In Pennsylvania, seven-term Rep. Bill Shuster defeated the tea party-preferred challenger, retired Coast Guard Capt. Art Halvorson.

• In Georgia, Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue advanced to a July 22 runoff in the Republican Senate primary, eliminating a trio of challengers including Karen Handel, who had been endorsed by tea party favorite Sarah Palin.

• In Idaho, Rep. Mike Simpson breezed past Bryan Smith, a trial lawyer whose campaign was heavily financed by the tea party.

Media and political strategists were quick to pick up on the theme.

"Primaries Tame the Tea Party," the Wall Street Journal declared.

"Republican primary voters are speaking out and making clear that they don't want professional tea party groups hijacking primaries and picking their candidates," Republican strategist Brian Walsh told the Journal. "Those days are over."

According to a CBS News poll released Wednesday, just 15 percent of Americans say they support the tea party — the lowest total since February 2010, and down from a high of 31 percent following the November 2010 midterms.

One reason for the drop-off: Republicans themselves. Just 32 percent of Republicans polled said they support the tea party, down 10 points from February. In July 2010, 55 percent of GOP voters said they supported the movement.

"That’s not to say that the GOP has experienced any shift to the political center," WSJ's Rebecca Ballhaus wrote, "nor does this mark a return to a pre-tea party era, in which compromising with Democrats wasn’t deemed so suspicious."

And tea party members say they are having long-term impact.

"We sometimes lose battles, but we are winning the war," Adam Brandon, a spokesman for FreedomWorks, told the newspaper. "They are all running on our issues."

Still, some observers believe Tuesday's losses may dissuade the tea party from lending its support to the remaining GOP candidates, like McConnell.

"I suspect the tea party may prove to be sore losers," Ernest Yanarella, a political scientist at the University of Kentucky, told the USA Today. "They could very well just sit out the Senate election itself, and that would certainly be bad news for him."

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