Tuesday's primary elections highlighted the civil war that's clearly been raging inside the GOP, and the latest results do not fall in the Tea Party’s favor.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell easily won his race in Kentucky, dispatching Tea Party-backed businessman Matt Bevin. The win sets up what is likely to be a close race with Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who won the Democratic nomination.
McConnell was leading Bevin 60 to 36 percent with 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Washington Post reported.
"We gave the people of Kentucky a choice for the first time in 30 years," Bevin said after watching reports that CNN also had called the race for McConnell.
Another blow to the Tea Party came in Georgia, where former Dollar General CEO and Herman Cain pal David Perdue led for the Republican Senate nomination. He had 30 percent in a seven-way race with 87 percent of precincts in, according to the Washington Post. Perdue will go to a runoff on July 22 against the second-place finisher, Rep. Jack Kingston, who had 26 percent. The more right-leaning candidates, Secretary of State Karen Handel and Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, trailed. The winner will face Democrat Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn, to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
The main attraction at the primaries was definitely McConnell’s race. Polls leading up to the vote showed McConnell with a 20-point advantage over Bevin, so the win comes as no surprise. His real challenge will be going up against Grimes, with whom he is tied in the polls.
While expected, McConnell's victory still registers as a serious blow to the Tea Party. McConnell was their main target, and considering how unpopular he is in his home state, and how deep Bevin’s pockets are, he looked vulnerable. A McConnell loss would have escalated the battle for control of the Republican Party.
For now, at least, the Tea Party seems ready to join the mainstream GOP rather than fight it. The Senate Conservatives Fund, whose goal was to take down McConnell, issued a statement almost immediately after his win, urging Kentucky Republicans to band together to stop Grimes, Talking Points Memo reported.
"We congratulate Senator McConnell on his victory and urge Republicans in Kentucky to come together to defeat Alison Lundergan Grimes," Senate Conservatives Fund executive director Matt Hoskins said in a statement. "We thank Matt Bevin for standing up for conservative principles and giving voters a choice in this race. Now it's time for Republicans to unite for victory in November."
This is a drastic change of tone for the SCF, since they have spent the majority of McConnell’s campaign releasing videos like this one, linking McConnell to the IRS and accusing him of telling other conservatives they’d get the death penalty if they opposed him. In an interview with the Washington Examiner last December, McConnell criticized them for thinking he was not doing his part to defeat Democrats and said the group "is giving conservatism a bad name."