Tea Party losing, winning

Several candidates struggling in primaries but succeeding in swaying GOP rightward

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WASHINGTON -- Tuesday's high-profile primary elections may extend a streak of sorts for Tea Party Republicans: losing individual races but winning the larger ideological war by tugging the GOP rightward.

Several Tea Party-endorsed candidates are struggling in Tuesday's Republican congressional primaries in Georgia, Kentucky and Idaho. In each state, however, the "establishment" Republican candidates have emphasized their conservative credentials, which narrows the party's philosophical differences.

Citing similar dynamics in other states, Democrats say the GOP candidates who are trying to give Republicans control of the Senate will prove too far right for centrist voters in November.

Republicans need to gain six Senate seats to control the chamber. Holding Kentucky and Georgia against well-funded Democrats, both women, is crucial to their hopes.

Six states hold primaries Tuesday. Georgia, Kentucky and Oregon have closely watched Republican contests for Senate. Pennsylvania and Arkansas have feisty gubernatorial primaries.

In Idaho, Tea Party-backed lawyer Bryan Smith is trying to oust Republican Rep. Mike Simpson, who's seeking a ninth House term.

In Kentucky, Tea Partyers would love to knock off Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a 30-year senator they see as too accommodating to Democrats. But challenger Matt Bevin has struggled under a barrage of attacks from McConnell and his allies.

Mr. McConnell, caught off guard by the Tea Party movement in 2010, has scrambled to win support from conservatives who dislike compromise. He quickly allied himself with Sen. Rand Paul, who defeated Mr. McConnell's hand-picked candidate in the 2010 primary.

And in February, Mr. McConnell voted against raising the debt ceiling, a never-pleasant vote that past party leaders often swallowed to avert a government default.

In Georgia, the Republican primary to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss drew a crowded field, including three U.S. House members. All are battling for the top two spots, with a July 22 runoff virtually certain.

Polls suggest Reps. Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey, who espouse Tea Party principles, may have faded in recent weeks. Karen Handel, Georgia's former secretary of state, won endorsements from Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Express.

Rep. Jack Kingston and businessman David Perdue have walked a careful line: showing more openness to establishment support while still catering to hard-core conservatives who dominate Republican primaries.

In Oregon, Republicans hope to knock off first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley in November. Seeking the GOP nomination Tuesday are pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby and state Rep. Jason Conger.

Arkansas' primary holds drama for several state offices, but the U.S. Senate showdown will come this fall. Two-term Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and first-term GOP Rep. Tom Cotton will claim their parties' nominations Tuesday.


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