Conservative activists say a victory by Richard Mourdock in the Indiana Republican primary Tuesday would be a significant step toward a Tea Party takeover of the Senate GOP agenda.
Mourdock’s anticipated win over Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) would be a huge boost to the Tea Party movement, which earlier this year was said to be losing steam and viability.
Mourdock is one of a half-dozen Tea Party-allied candidates in Republican primaries who could change the balance of power among Senate Republicans.
Rep. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeBiden nominates former Sen. Tom Udall as New Zealand ambassador Biden to nominate Jane Hartley as UK ambassador: report The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Goldman Sachs - Voting rights will be on '22, '24 ballots MORE, who is favored to win the Arizona Senate Republican primary; Josh Mandel, the GOP nominee in Ohio; and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - Schumer: Dem unity will happen eventually; Newsom prevails The Memo: Like the dress or not, Ocasio-Cortez is driving the conversation again Ocasio-Cortez defends attendance of Met Gala amid GOP uproar MORE, who could be headed for a runoff election in Texas, are other conservatives who are in decent position to triumph in November.
They would give more influence to the conservative faction of the conference, which includes Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.), Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulSenate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken Rand Paul: 'Hatred for Trump' blocking research into ivermectin as COVID-19 treatment Masks and vaccines: What price freedom? MORE (Ky.) and Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeEconomy adds just 235K jobs in August as delta hammers growth Lawmakers flooded with calls for help on Afghanistan exit Afghanistan fiasco proves we didn't leave soon enough MORE (Utah), founding members of the Senate Tea Party Caucus.
DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund has endorsed Flake, Mandel and Cruz.
“In the middle of a campaign season that’s been dominated by talk of [the] presidential race, there has been a group of independent conservative candidates that is gradually building momentum and gaining support,” said Matt Hoskins, spokesman for the Senate Conservatives Fund. “We could have another election with an injection of the new blood of Tea Party conservatives in the Senate.”
Erick Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com, an influential conservative website, says if Tea Party Republicans don’t take over the Senate GOP conference, they will gain enough members to change the agenda.
“I don’t think they’ll have a majority of the conference, but they will have enough representation to give Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE and the Democrats a serious headache,” he said in reference to Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
A senior Republican aide suggested, however, that McConnell could be helped by an influx of Tea Party conservatives in the Senate. The aide said it would help put the Senate GOP agenda more in line with House Republicans’.
Over the last several months, Democrats have relished the Tea Party’s drop in the polls while privately rooting for far-right candidates to win GOP primaries.
Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidDemocrats say Biden must get more involved in budget fight Biden looks to climate to sell economic agenda Justice Breyer issues warning on remaking Supreme Court: 'What goes around comes around' MORE (D-Nev.), during a January appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said, “I think the Tea Party’s dying out as the economy’s slowly getting better.”
Over the last couple of cycles, Republican operatives have bemoaned the Tea Party. They say the GOP squandered winnable Senate seats in 2010 because of Tea Party candidates who fell short in Nevada, Delaware and Colorado.
Some Tea Party senators have held off from endorsing Mourdock in his bid against Lugar, a respected member of the Senate GOP conference. However, Tea Party members and the Republican establishment are expected to quickly endorse Mourdock should he beat the 36-year incumbent.
Senate Democrats say a win by Mourdock would give them a chance to swipe the GOP-held seat, claiming that Rep. Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sanders traveling to Iowa, Indiana to pitch Biden's spending package Supreme Court battle could wreak havoc with Biden's 2020 agenda MORE (D-Ind.) is a strong candidate. While President Obama carried Indiana in 2008, his prospects there now look bleak and Republicans feel confident they have a strong advantage in the state.
Right-leaning groups such as FreedomWorks for America say their goal is to win a controlling share of the Senate GOP conference and insist that is within reach, pointing to Sen. Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senator: Buying Treasury bonds 'foolish' amid standoff over debt ceiling, taxes Internal poll shows Barnes with 29-point lead in Wisconsin Democratic Senate primary Wisconsin Democratic Senate candidate facing 4 felony charges MORE’s (R-Wis.) narrow loss to Sen. Roy BluntRoy Dean BluntGOP hopes spending traps derail Biden agenda A tale of two chambers: Trump's power holds in House, wanes in Senate The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by AT&T - Senate passes infrastructure bill, budget resolution; Cuomo resigns MORE (R-Mo.) in the race for Senate GOP conference vice chairman.
“It’s about getting a majority of the majority,” said Ryan Hecker, chief operating officer of FreedomWorks. “That’s been FreedomWorks’s goal from the beginning.
“Blunt beat Ron Johnson by just three votes. That tells me all you need is a strong core of conservatives and senators who have been in Washington a lot longer who will join forces with the conservative core,” he said.
Leading conservatives say they want a Senate Republican leadership more closely aligned with their views on spending. Earmarks remain an issue of contention within Republican circles even though the Senate GOP adopted a moratorium on the projects at the end of 2010.
“Mitch McConnell didn’t go to the floor of the Senate to swear off earmarks because he wanted to but because he had to,” said Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth, which has spent hundreds of thousands to support Mourdock. “It would be well-served to have a leadership that wants to do things like that rather than are forced to do it.”
A poll by Magellan Strategies, a Republican firm, last week showed Flake ahead of Democratic candidate Richard Carmona by four points.
Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownAdvocates call on top Democrats for 0B in housing investments Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees Wyden releases new tax proposals as Democrats work on .5T bill MORE (D) leads Mandel by an average of 8.5 points in recent public polls, though Senate Republican strategists expect the race to tighten. Mandel has been helped by more than $5 million in ads funded by third-party groups such as Crossroads GPS and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce against Brown.
In Texas, a Democratic poll last month showed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the GOP establishment candidate, drawing 38 percent of the primary vote against Cruz, who pulled 26 percent support. Political handicappers indicate the Dewhurst campaign is nervous about a potential runoff with Cruz, blasting him with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of attack ads.
Paul and his father, presidential candidate Ron Paul, attended a rally for Cruz at the Texas Capitol on Sunday organized by the Tea Party Express.
The next tier of conservative Senate candidates includes Sarah Steelman in Missouri, Mark Neumann in Wisconsin and Don Stenberg in Nebraska. A Rasmussen poll from mid-April showed Steelman 7 points up on Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (D-Mo.).
Steelman is vying for the Republican nomination against Rep. Todd Akin and John Brunner.
“If Sarah Steelman wins that primary, she has the potential to shake up the Senate Republican leadership. She’s one tough cookie,” said a conservative strategist.
Neumann has a tougher road to the Senate. He’s facing former Gov. Tommy Thompson, a center-right politician who has shown he can win statewide.
Barry C. Burden, a professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said Neumann has to contend with other conservative candidates who will likely split the Tea Party vote.
“Thompson is the favorite and has been all along. He has a level of name recognition and familiarity and heavyweight status,” said Burden. “Neumann is in striking distance and has not yet made the move.”
Neumann also has the backing of the Senate Conservatives Fund.
Conservatives admire Stenberg’s record and feel confident he would hold fast to his conservative principles in Washington. But Stenberg has not had a good track record in Senate races, having lost three of them.
A poll released by state Sen. Deb FischerDebra (Deb) Strobel FischerAustin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal After messy Afghanistan withdrawal, questions remain House Democrats press leaders to include more funding for electric vehicles in spending plan MORE’s (R) campaign Monday showed Stenberg third in the primary race. The survey gave 30 percent for state Attorney General Jon Bruning, 26 percent for Fischer and 18 percent for Stenberg, with 24 percent of voters undecided.
The Senate Conservatives Fund has backed Stenberg and invested nearly $1 million in his race.