To clarify, “McConnellgeddon” is when McConnell destroys a tea-party challenger with the force of an asteroid impact, not when he himself is destroyed.
Ed previewed the carnage this morning but you deserve a thread to mourn and guess the spread. (A savvy politico friend on Twitter predicts a relatively narrow Mitch win by 12-14 points.) Matt Bevin sounds bitter:
“There’s little that I did not anticipate to some degree,” Mr. Bevin said as he sat in a Louisville cafe. “I did my homework, I know who I’m running against, I know what his methodology is: Define the opponent before they define themselves. You malign. You slash and smear. You mock, you ridicule and you question, and then you come out and declare victory.”…
He added: “I have been disheartened by how generally apathetic people really, truly are about taking ownership in their role in the political process. It wasn’t a surprise, but I’ve just been disheartened by how true it really is.”…
He attributed [Rand] Paul’s endorsement of Mr. McConnell to Mr. Paul’s presidential ambitions, and rejected the notion, floated by advisers to both senators, that they became friends through their wives.
Politico has a pre-election postmortem on how McConnell beat back the tea party, although most of it will be familiar to you if you’ve been following the race even casually. How bad do things look for the challenger? Even Erick Erickson’s thrown in the towel:
— Erick Erickson (@EWErickson) May 20, 2014
Between McConnell’s easy ride to victory and Lindsey Graham’s trouble-free reelection campaign in South Carolina thus far, it’s worth asking just how vulnerable GOP incumbents are to tea-party primary challenges anymore. Philip Klein surveys the landscape and says, “Not very.” But that’s not altogether bad news:
The perception that Tea Partiers were routinely knocking off incumbent Senators in previous years is a myth. The reality is that it’s only happened a few times since the movement gained electoral influence. In 2010, incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett was ousted in the Utah state Republican convention, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, lost the Republican nomination but ended up retaining her Senate seat as a write-in candidate. In 2012, just one incumbent Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar, lost a primary — in Indiana, to Richard Mourdock, who ended up losing in the general election…
What’s more significant is the fact that the Tea Party message on the size and scope of government is something that continues to carry a lot of weight, which is something that can get lost in the rush to brand candidates as being part of the Tea Party or from the establishment.
Because the Tea Party has now been around for a half a decade, non-incumbent Senators seeking higher office know that to be competitive in Republican primaries, they have to build up a record that can pass muster, and they’ve had opportunities to do so. That’s how you end up with candidates such as North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis, whose victory in the Senate primary was branded as win for the establishment even though as speaker, he fought to block Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.
Yeah, the party’s shifted right overall, which is a nice consolation prize to keep in mind tonight. And there may still be successful tea-party challenges to incumbents in years to come. The lesson of the last two cycles, I think, isn’t “you can’t win” but more “it’ll take a lot.” Nothing against Bevin, who’s an impressive guy, but to contend against a heavyweight like McConnell, you needed a challenger of Ted Cruz’s intellect and charisma, someone who might plausibly catch fire nationally and turn his race into a conservative cause celebre. And even that might not have done it: Dislodging the would-be majority leader, who can deliver all sorts of goodies to Kentucky if he’s returned to the Senate, would be a high bar even for Cruz. The hard fact of the matter is that an incumbent who takes the prospect of a primary challenge seriously, prepares early, fundraises vigorously, and runs hard in the primary is incredibly difficult to beat, even without McConnell’s seniority. Just look at how easy Grahamnesty has it in a very red state. I want to believe a conservative in Arizona will mount a serious threat to McCain in 2016. But I don’t. Maverick won’t get caught napping like Bob Bennett and Dick Lugar.
Kentucky’s not the only game in town, though. The Georgia Senate primary is also happening, with David Perdue a lock to secure one of the two spots in the runoff. The suspense is over who gets the other — Jack Kingston or Karen Handel, who are within three points of each other in the last three polls. Oregon is also voting tonight, with Monica Wehby the favorite in a race that’s in flux since the nasty accusations about stalking and a messy divorce this week. She led her opponent in the only poll taken and a huge chunk of Oregonians vote early, so it may be the attacks came too late to affect the primary. You can follow results for all races at RCP or, if you’re interested only in the competitive ones, at Ace’s decision desk. The polls close at 7 p.m. ET in Georgia and Kentucky (although some returns are already in since half the state is in a different time zone) and at 11 p.m. in Oregon. While we wait, via the Right Scoop, here’s Mark Levin wondering whether the time has come to send a message to RINOs who use dirty tricks in the primary by sitting out a general election. He’s not condoning the idea, he says, but it’s crossed his mind. Matt Bevin said earlier today of McConnell “My job is to beat him. And if we don’t, I don’t know how he wins in November when he’s divided his own party as much as he has.” Hmmmm.