Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on
 

Primary roundup: The GOP establishment strikes back against the tea party

By Dana Bash, Paul Steinhauser and Rachel Streitfeld, CNN
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed May 21, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • David Perdue and Jack Kingston will have a runoff in Georgia's GOP Senate primary
  • In Oregon, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Dr. Monica Wehby win Democratic, GOP Senate primaries
  • Six states held primary elections Tuesday
  • Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell faces Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes

(CNN) -- Sen. Mitch McConnell trounced his tea party-backed opponent in Kentucky's Republican primary, leading a quartet of establishment GOP candidates to victories around the country Tuesday.

After an expensive and bitter campaign, the Senate minority leader led defeated challenger Matt Bevin 60%-36%, with 97% of precincts reporting, according to numbers compiled by The Associated Press.

In addition to Kentucky, more moderate candidates won in Republican Senate primaries in Georgia and Oregon and in a House showdown in Idaho.

And the results in Kentucky, Georgia and Oregon could improve the GOP's chances of taking back control of the Senate come November's midterm elections.

Bevin: Attacks eroded faith in leaders
McConnell's $100 million senate seat?
Senate race heats up in Kentucky
GOP Candidates Balk at Sen. McConnell

Democrats hold a 55-45 voting majority in the Senate. They're defending 21 of the 36 seats in play, half of them in Republican-leaning states or states where the two parties have similar levels of support.

The only states where the Democrats hope to play offense are Kentucky and Georgia.

If the GOP flips six Democratic held seats, they will win control of the Senate and McConnell will get a promotion from minority leader to majority leader.

"We can take the reins of power away from Harry Reid and make this President accountable," McConnell said in his victory speech. "Make me the majority leader, and Kentucky will lead America."

How McConnell crushed the tea party

Here are rundowns in the other state races:

Georgia: Republican businessman David Perdue will face Rep. Jack Kingston in a runoff in July. Perdue got 30% of the vote; Kingston received 27%, according to numbers complied by The Associated Press. Perdue and Kingston beat out a trio of more conservative candidates in the GOP primary.

Among Democrats, Michelle Nunn easily won in her bid to follow in the footsteps of her father, longtime Sen. Sam Nunn.

Oregon: Sen. Jeff Merkley easily won the Democratic primary, and pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby is the projected winner of the GOP Senate primary, topping a more conservative rival.

Idaho: Rep. Mike Simpson won the GOP primary in the state's 2nd Congressional District, defeating tea party candidate Bryan Smith.

5 key primaries to watch Tuesday

Ugly and expensive race

Bevin, a businessman from Louisville, announced last summer he would challenge McConnell. He quickly gained the support of tea party activists and some influential Washington-based anti-establishment groups.

The race between the two men quickly turned ugly, and expensive, as both campaigns and outside groups spent big bucks.

The Senate Conservatives Fund dished out $1 million to support Bevin. But the group recently fell quiet with McConnell's formidable lead in public opinion polls.

McConnell had a large campaign war chest, as well as backing from two Kentucky-based super PACs, and such powerful national groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association.

Calls for unity

Soon after the race in Kentucky was called for McConnell, two of the groups backing Bevin -- the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project -- closed ranks behind the Senate minority leader.

"Now it's time for Republicans to unite for victory in November," said a statement from the Senate Conservatives Fund.

McConnell now faces a much tougher test against Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Grimes, considered a rising Democratic star, faced no real opposition in her primary and already has had big names -- such as former President Bill Clinton -- team up with her on the campaign trail.

Grimes connected to big donors, big hitters

Speaking to supporters who held up signs that read "Obama needs Alison Grimes" and "Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell," McConnell previewed his primary election theme: tying his opponent to President Obama, who lost Kentucky big in 2012 and is highly unpopular there now.

"My opponent is in this race because Barack Obama and Harry Reid want her to be in this race," said McConnell, adding that "a vote for my opponent is a vote for Obamacare and the President who sold it to us on a mountain of lies."

The pro-McConnell outside group Kentuckians for Strong Leadership said they would spend nearly $600,000 starting Wednesday to run a television commercial that ties Grimes to Obama.

Grimes, who spoke at her victory celebration just minutes after McConnell's speech ended, fired back.

"I'm here to tell you tonight, my fellow Kentuckians, I am not an empty dress, I am not a rubber stamp and I am not a cheerleader. I am a strong Kentucky woman who is an independent thinker who, when I'm Kentucky's next senator, the decisions I make will be what's best for the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, not partisan interests," Grimes declared.

She's expected to use McConnell's GOP leader status and his frequent moves to block legislation to make him the symbol of gridlock in Washington.

The most recent polling indicates the two candidates are all tied up.

When all's said and done, the race could become the most expensive Senate campaign in history, breaking the $82 million record set in the 2012 Senate battle in Massachusetts.

Key races to watch

CNN's Steve Brusk, Dana Davidsen and Holly Yan contributed to this report.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
See the full results for who won the Senate, House and governor midterm elections.
updated 9:26 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Attention Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and everyone else "seriously considering" a run for president.
updated 6:18 PM EST, Thu November 6, 2014
You know that Republican doctor who got one of his patients pregnant and then demanded that she get an abortion? Yeah, he won.
updated 3:20 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
The 2014 midterm elections brought a historic victory for Republicans, handing the GOP its largest congressional majority since World War II.
updated 10:10 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
It was a tough night for Democrats -- who will be looking for a leader for 2016 -- and a big night for the GOP -- who may have a few more names to consider.
updated 10:43 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
A Republican tide ripped the Senate away from Democrats, giving the GOP full control of Congress and the power to pin down President Obama.
updated 9:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
The House of Representatives remained solidly in Republican hands after Tuesday's midterm election.
updated 7:22 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has won re-election in Kentucky, staving off Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, according to a CNN projection.
updated 2:06 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Sen. Ted Cruz lauded the Republican Senate takeover, but shied away from endorsing Sen. Mitch McConnell to lead the new majority.
updated 11:31 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
CNN asked commentators for views on the results of the midterm elections, in which the GOP took back the Senate and retained control of the House.
updated 8:17 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
South Carolina's Tim Scott became the first African-American senator to win election in the South since Reconstruction.
updated 2:39 PM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Voters in Oregon and D.C. have voted to approve sweeping pro-marijuana legalization while voters in Florida gave the thumbs down.
updated 7:59 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republicans continued their dominance of governor's mansions when a number of GOP leaders fought off stiff challenges from Democrats.
updated 11:14 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Republican David Perdue has won the race for Georgia's U.S. Senate seat occupied by retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.
updated 1:09 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
First-term Democratic incumbent North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan lost in a tight contest against GOP challenger Thom Tillis.
updated 10:09 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Republican Rep. Tom Cotton has defeated Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor in Arkansas, according to a CNN projection.
updated 7:21 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Republican Scott Brown lost his second Senate race in two election cycles, failing to unseat Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.
updated 7:51 AM EST, Wed November 5, 2014
Former Gov. Charlie Crist conceded Florida's close gubernatorial race against GOP Gov. Rick Scott.
updated 6:49 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
A majority of Americans are dissatisfied with President Obama's administration and GOP leaders, according to exit polls released and analyzed by CNN.
updated 9:47 PM EST, Tue November 4, 2014
Take a look around the country in our gallery as America votes.
Who's giving to outside groups? It's not just candidates and parties spending the cash.
ADVERTISEMENT