After a long, unapologetic effort to defeat Tea Party and other so-called “unelectable” candidates in GOP primaries, the Washington establishment will likely need Tea Party voters in November to help swing several tight Senate races and win control of the upper chamber.
Republicans appear poised to win three of the net total six seats required to take the Senate. But they are locked in six other, too-close-to call contests in their effort to win the remaining three seats.
The National Republican Senatorial Committee on Friday dismissed the notion that party voters are not united behind their candidates.
“Can you point to a race … ? It’s a false narrative,” said group spokeswoman Brook Hougsen, who cited a recent George Washington University survey that shows Republicans with a 16-point advantage over Democrats (52-to-36 percent) in a generic poll on competitive Senate races.
Kevin Broughton, spokesman for the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund, a political action committee, singled out a few races, particularly in Kansas and Mississippi, but suggested his troops will rally for the general election.
“While Tea Party people and conservative activists might have a bad taste in their mouth, the goal is to keep Barack Obama from making more bad appointments to the federal appeals courts,” he said. “And the way you stop that is to take away (Nevada Sen.) Harry Reid’s Democratic majority and his nuclear option.”
Broughton said they will focus on such grassroots efforts as get-out-the-vote, instead of buying TV or other media spots.
The establishment and its deep-pocket supporters made clear from the start of the 2014 election cycle that their goal was to field a full squad of electable candidates, thus avoiding past mistakes, and to weed out anybody who might get elected and undermine their legislative agenda.
“Our job is to win a GOP majority,” NRSC strategist Brad Dayspring said in terse November 2013 tweet.
Two months later, the Chamber of Commerce made clear that Big Business was also going to work -- vowing to support candidates “who want to work within the legislative process” and to unleash “enough resources to run the most effective political program of 2014.”
The results were indeed impressive.
All six Republican senators who faced promising Tea Party-backed challenges won their primaries, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who in March boldly predicted he and the rest of the Washington establishment would “crush” far-right advocacy groups and their candidates.
“I don’t think they are going to have a single nominee anywhere in the country,” the five-term Kentucky Republican told The New York Times.
The other wins came in Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Kansas, where the NRSC helped incumbent GOP Sen. Pat Roberts to victory with more than 40,000 phone calls in the final three weeks of his campaign.
In Mississippi, Tea Party-backed candidate Chris McDaniel forced GOP incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran -- who had strong inside-the-beltway financial and grassroots support -- into a runoff to retain his seat.
Politico described the contest as “a flashpoint in the GOP civil war.”
The North Carolina Senate race is among the six deadlocked contests.
The Washington establishment has invested in candidate Thom Tillis, a state House leader who defeated a field of Tea Party-backed challengers in a May primary and now faces incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagen.
The U.S. chamber has so far put $1.2 million into the race, according to OpenSecrets.org.
The other races are in Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana and now Iowa -- all considered “tossups,” according to the nonpartisan website RealClearPolitics.
“There will have to be some fence mending with these groups, particularly in states with late primaries,” Andrew Smith, a University of New Hampshire pollster and political science professor, said earlier this week.
He said the GOP establishment must get those groups energized and that the best way is to “make it easy for independent voters” by tying every Democratic candidate to President Obama.
Republicans blame Tea Party-backed and flawed candidates for squandering the party's shot at Senate control in 2010 and 2012, especially in Delaware, Nevada, Colorado, Missouri and Indiana.
In Delaware, for example, Christine O’Donnell rode the 2010 Tea Party wave to victory over nine-term Rep. Mike Castle in the state’s GOP Senate primary, only to run a disastrous general-election campaign and lose the Republican-held seat by 17 percentage points.
“I’m sure a lot of party leaders are also saying, ‘Look, you saw what happened in 2010 and 2012. Don’t let it happen again,’ ” Smith said.
This weekend, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund sent an email to members attacking Colorado Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Bruce Braley. The email in part criticized Braley for his support of ObamaCare but made no mention of Republican nominee Joni Ernst, who has support from the Washington establishment and such Tea Party stalwarts as 2010 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin.
“By any measure, Republicans are fired up and ready to deliver victories to their candidates in November,” said Ed Goeas, president and chief executive of the Tarrance Group, which helped in the GWU poll.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.