Tuesday's GOP primaries in states across the country were a chance for political analysts to assess where the tea party stands now, after months of premature death notices, followed by perhaps equally premature declarations of victory.
Tea partiers were counting on the example -- and the momentum -- from tea party-backed economics professor David Brat's stunning defeat of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in the Virginia GOP primary earlier this month. But the right seemed to be on the wane again, judging from Tuesday's GOP primary results.
The most closely watched race was in Mississippi, where six-term Sen. Thad Cochran was up against tea party-backed state Sen. Chris McDaniel in a GOP primary runoff for Cochran's seat. The longtime incumbent appeared to hang onto his seat in a very close race.
In Oklahoma, there was a seven-way GOP primary race to replace retiring Sen. Tom Coburn. with candidates carefully positioning themselves to his right. Rep. James Lankford, a party stalwart seen as a future GOP leader by House Speaker John Boehner, won a solid victory.
Over the past five years the ideological, conservative, tea party has established a foothold in Congress and statehouses across the country. Started as a grassroots movement -- with backing from the outset by big money from donors like the billionaire Koch brothers -- the tea party has been effective and continues to make Republican incumbents nervous.
The tea party vs. GOP establishment storyline was clearest in Mississippi. Cochran narrowly lost to the relatively unknown McDaniel in a June 3 primary, but because neither of the candidates won a full 50 percent of the vote, the race went to Tuesday's runoff.
With Cochran, a 76 year old running on his experience and influence (the ultimate DC insider, in other words), many tea party sympathizers sided with 41-year-old McDaniel, who only won his first state election in 2008 after working as a right-wing radio host and lawyer for years.
That provided an opening for McDaniel, and the two fought viciously for months, perhaps most strangely when an online, unofficial attack ad against Cochran featured a photo of his wife, who has suffered from dementia in a nursing home for the past 14 years. Four people were arrested on conspiracy charges centered around whether they obtained the photos illegally, and McDaniel denied any involvement in the ad's creation or planning, according to CNN. But the clip had already received heavy media attention and was seen by many voters, which attracted big money from outside groups and other states.
Cochran's political strategy ended up bringing race into the mix in a state with a highly charged racial history, as Cochran turned to black voters and Democrats as a way to get the edge over McDaniel's far-right support. Both conservative groups and the NAACP said they would watch polling places carefully for signs of either voter fraud or intimidation. The turnout of minority voters appeared to be strong and may well have provided the winning margin.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma was being watched almost as closely as Mississippi on Tuesday, as the crowded primary to replace Sen. Tom Coburn after his January retirement announcement was again seen as a weather vane. Though there were seven candidates in the field, the race mostly came down to poll leaders Rep. Lankford and state House Speaker T.W. Shannon.
The themes of the Oklahoma race were similar to those in Mississippi. Lankford, the winner on Tuesday, is a 46-year-old minister who has been a congressman since 2011. As a former Baptist camp director, Lankford was supported by the Christian right and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
Shannon, 36, had the backing of former Vice President Sarah Palin and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, giving him impeccable tea party credentials.
The Oklahoma race also had racial undertones, as Shannon's background includes African-American and Native American lineage, which made him attractive as a national-level politician in a party that is trying to shake its image as an old white man's club. But he had a political history, having worked for state and national Republican politicians, which somewhat tarnished his upstart appeal.
In another widely watched primary, Coloradoans went to polls to decide whether to make 2008 Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, former U.S. Rep. Bob Beauprez, Secretary of State Scott Gessler or former state Sen. Mike Kopp the party's candidate for governor.
The race was seen as one of the best chances for Republicans to take a gubernatorial seat away from a sitting Democrat, namely Gov. John Hickenlooper. It was also seen as a potential problem for Republicans, though, as they worried that Tancredo, a 65-year-old immigration hawk seen as a bit of a kook and something of a long-shot to beat Hickenlooper, would make it onto the November ballot. They avoided that worry: The winner was Beauprez, 65, who served in the House of Representatives from 2003 to 2007. He was the 2006 Colorado Republican candidate for governor, but lost to Democratic nominee Bill Ritter by 56 percent to 41 percent.