The Tea Party's Alamo?
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Establishment Republicans believe a successful night of primaries on Tuesday — in particular Sen. Thad Cochran’s (R-Miss.) surprising defeat of challenger state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) in a runoff — effectively neutered the Tea Party for the foreseeable future.


Steve LaTourette, a former Ohio Republican congressman who is currently president of Main Street PAC, a group seeking to elect moderate, compromise-minded Republicans, compared the Cochran-McDaniel race to the Battle of the Alamo, a turning point in the Texas Revolution.

“We did consider [the Mississippi Senate race] to be sort of the Alamo, and we knew if we were successful down here that the narrative would be a lot better heading into the fall and 2016,” he said.

“I don’t think [Tea Party candidates] have the ability to sneak up on people anymore.”

Main Street spent $400,000 for Cochran during the primary fight, with $100,000 of that coming as a ground operation investment during the runoff period.

The Chamber of Commerce, Main Street, the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a super PAC with ties to former Miss. Gov. Haley Barbour (R) all pitched in on the race, but were ultimately outspent.

Groups backing McDaniel outspent groups backing Cochran by more than $3 million, and Cochran had far fewer establishment-minded groups coming to his rescue than conservative groups that supported McDaniel.

Still, Cochran prevailed, even while running a decidedly unconservative runoff campaign that emphasized the federal money he’s brought back to the state as an appropriator and pitching for African American Democratic votes.

As GOP strategist Ford O’Connell, who previously advised Barbour’s campaign, put it, the Mississippi runoff results should make conservatives rethink their whole strategy.

“Sen. Thad Cochran was essentially left for dead, and yet the Tea Party could not get the scalp on the mantle it so desperately needed. So, it’s back to the drawing board for grassroots conservatives,” he said.

McDaniel’s success in the first round of primary voting, as well as Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) remarkable primary loss two weeks ago, had infused the Tea Party, which was down on its luck after a series of high-profile losses this cycle, with a much-needed boost of energy. Long-shot primary challengers were claiming McDaniel’s success as their own, and warning their incumbents would be the next Cochran.

LaTourette admitted that if McDaniel had won, “it would have emboldened [conservatives]…and it also would have sent a message to those who serve to be obstructionists.”

He said it should now be easier to for the GOP to forge a middle path with an eye on 2016, where conservative positions on everything from gay marriage to immigration reform to education funding that play well in GOP primaries tend to hobble Republican nominees in the general.

“You should cooperate, and also govern the country. You don’t have to abandon any conservative principles to do that,” LaTourette said.

The establishment also got their picks in New York’s 22nd district, where Rep. Richard Hanna (R) defeated a Tea Party-backed challenger. In the state’s 21st district, former George W. Bush administration official Elise Stefanik prevailed over businessman Matt Doheny, who framed himself as a conservative in the race. And in New York’s 1st district, establishment-backed state Sen. Lee Zeldin won the nomination to take on Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop this fall.

In Oklahoma, meanwhile, conservative pick T.W. Shannon lost the GOP nomination to succeed retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R) decisively to Rep. James Lankford (R), seen as more establishment-minded because of his willingness to work with leadership.

Despite the relief, LaTourette said, establishment groups aren’t done yet.

“We’re not going to rest. The primary season goes through August so we have a couple more months where these primaries are going to bubble up, and we’ll have to play in some of those races,” he said.