Sen. Mitch McConnell primary challenge leads Tuesday voting

 

More information


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Mitch McConnell, the Senate’s most powerful Republican, will get his first big 2014 electoral test Tuesday as he faces a tea party challenger who’s trying to mobilize anti-incumbent sentiment.

Kentucky’s Republican primary is the main attraction Tuesday, when six states will provide the biggest day of tests yet for the Republican establishment and the grass-roots tea party movement, which has roiled the party.

Two other states will be closely watched for clues about who’s winning the struggle. In Georgia, three incumbent congressmen are vying with two Washington outsiders for the party’s Senate nomination. In Idaho, veteran Rep. Mike Simpson is battling tea party favorite Bryan Smith.

Underscoring all of it is a strong anti-insider mood. And no one on the ballot Tuesday symbolizes insider Washington like McConnell, who’s seeking his sixth term in the Senate.

McConnell is being challenged in the primary by Louisville businessman Matt Bevin. Even if Bevin loses _ and he’s far behind in a recent poll _ a strong showing by the challenger would signal that McConnell is in for big general-election trouble against likely Democratic nominee Alison Lundergan Grimes.

People are thinking that “If we hate Washington, if we hate Congress, if we hate what’s going on and you’re one of the most . . . powerful people in Congress, we must hate you more (than) anybody else,” said political analyst Charlie Cook.

Establishment candidates have rebounded this year so far. They’ve been ready for the tea party challenges. In many cases, insurgents have proved to be poor candidates or unable to mobilize the same passion that boosted the tea party when it became a political force in 2010.

Turnout in state after state is expected to be very low, meaning the nontraditional grass-roots voters the tea party attracts are more likely to stay home, said Matt Towery, the chief executive officer of Atlanta-based InsiderAdvantage, a political media and polling firm.

“We don’t expect the same degree of impassioned voting this year,” he said. People are somewhat better off economically, and voters have soured on the political system.

Here’s the outlook for Tuesday.

Kentucky

In 2010, tea party hero Rand Paul upset McConnell’s Senate candidate, Trey Grayson.

McConnell took notice. “I don’t think any other Republican candidate has prepared for this kind of primary better than him,” said Scott Jennings, a Louisville, Ky.-based Republican strategist who was a political adviser to President George W. Bush.

The Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, as well as other conservative groups, is behind Bevin. McConnell has been able to counter with a “strong conservative record,” said Brad Shattuck, a Lexington, Ky.-based consultant. McConnell’s lifetime American Conservative Union rating is 90.16 (out of 100), a solid conservative showing.

Some Bevin miscues have also helped, notably the challenger’s appearance at a pro-cockfighting rally. Bevin said he thought it was a rally for states’ rights.

A recent NBC News-Marist poll found McConnell ahead among likely Republican voters, 57 to 25 percent. Still, tea party backers have surprised the experts before, and even if he wins, McConnell’s totals will be scrutinized for clues to voter sentiment.

Georgia

Three candidates are thought to be in the running for two top spots in Georgia’s Republican Senate primary. If no one gets a majority of votes, the top two finishers will compete in a runoff July 22.

Polls find that top tier includes former Secretary of State Karen Handel, businessman David Perdue and Rep. Jack Kingston _ and not Reps. Phil Gingrey and Paul Broun. Broun was once seen as the darling of the tea party movement, but the Tea Party Express is behind Handel.

Turnout is key. Towery expects a disproportionate number of over-50 voters to show up, and they tend to be more analytical and less angry at the government than tea party loyalists are.

Handel is a wild card, since she’s used social media extensively to boost her candidacy, and Perdue has positioned himself as the outsider candidate. A Handel-Perdue runoff would be seen as evidence that voters wanted little to do with Washington incumbents.

Idaho

Simpson is another consummate Washington insider, the chairman of a powerful appropriations subcommittee and close to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

The conservative Club for Growth Political Action Committee made Simpson an early target, endorsing Smith last July and branding Simpson’s record “atrocious.”

The club spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to boost Smith _ and then last month it apparently stopped, according to The Idaho Statesman, a McClatchy newspaper.

“We’re in a constant state of assessing and reassessing our races, moving resources in and out _ depends on the day or week,” said club spokesman Barney Keller.

Idaho tea party candidates are having a rough time, said Marty Peterson, a veteran Boise-based political activist who’s a member of The Idaho Statesman editorial board.

“They are saying, ‘We are the true Republicans,’ ” he said of the tea party, but people are well aware that Simpson has a strong conservative voting record. Simpson’s lifetime American Conservative Union record is 81.96, not in the league that tea party activists would like but well in the ballpark for a true conservative.

Other states

Oregon, Pennsylvania and Arkansas also will hold primaries Tuesday. Pennsylvania’s governor’s race is being closely watched, since Republican incumbent Tom Corbett is vulnerable. Democrat Tom Wolf has a comfortable lead over Rep. Allyson Schwartz in the battle for the party nomination to face him.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
North Korean women, dressed in traditional Chogori watch a pro wrestling exhibition, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 in Pyongyang, North Korea. North Koreans got their first look at pro wrestling in about 20-years on Saturday when former NFL lineman Bob "The Beast" Sapp, and 20 other fighters from around the world took to the ring for an exhibition in Pyongyang, put together by colourful Japanese pro-wrestler Kanji "Antonio" Inoki, who is now a member of parliament.

    Pro wrestling returns to the ring in North Korea

    North Koreans got their first look at pro wrestling in about 20 years on Saturday when an ex-NFL lineman and 20 other grapplers from around the world took to the ring for an exhibition put together by a charismatic former Japanese pro-wrestler who is now a member of parliament.

  • Health law factors into governor's, Senate races

    Democrats Mark Pryor and Mike Ross took different positions on the president's federal health overhaul plan when it came before Congress four years ago. But, running in the two hottest races in Arkansas this fall, both find themselves under attack on the issue and navigating around it as they struggle to prevent a complete Republican takeover of the state's top offices.

  • Common Core an issue in competitive governor race

    An underfunded and little-known Democratic candidate for governor has found a new issue on which to attack incumbent Gov. Mary Fallin.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category