There's still room for centrists in the Republican Party, the party's Senate campaign chief said Friday.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), said relatively centrist GOP senators should feel welcome in the party despite the spate of primary defeats this cycle for similar incumbents and candidates by conservative challengers.
"Absolutely," Cornyn said when asked if centrists are welcome. "People have to understand that this country is a big, diverse country, and not every region and every state is the same."
"I think what matters is what the voters in Maine and what the voters in the individual states think about the senator or the candidate," Cornyn said of how senators such as Susan Collins (R-Maine) might handle the prospect of a Tea Party challenge in 2012.
Cornyn said he recommended those centrist senators "stay in touch" with voters in their home states.
A slew of candidates who had been backed by the NRSC this cycle ended up losing to the new crop of conservative challengers. Incumbent Sens. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) were unseated by primary challengers. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson was defeated in a primary, Lt. Gov. Jane Norton lost in Colorado, Sue Lowden was beat in the Nevada primary, Rep. Mike Castle lost in Delaware, and Charlie Crist left the GOP in Florida to pursue an independent bid. All lost to conservative primary challengers.
The tumultuous primary field meant the defeat of many of the top-tier candidates that Cornyn and the NRSC had lured into races. The primary bids have also fueled a divide, at times, between Senate GOP leaders and conservatives like Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R), who have been unafraid of jumping into primaries and backing conservative candidates.
Democrats have also played up the notion of any such rift, and have at times delighted in pointing out some of the less conventional positions held and proposals made by the Tea Party-backed candidates. The Republican Party, Vice President Joe Biden charged this week after the Delaware primary, is a party where "no moderates need apply."
GOP leaders have made nice in the wake of each primary, rallying around candidates for the general election. Cornyn, like other Republican leaders, said he's banking on conservative activists and many in the Tea Party movement to turn their intensity against Democrats in the general election.
"If people think there's been a lot of turbulence in Republican primaries, which I think is all in the past, then just wait for November 2nd," he said.