Cennamology Chief Editor
Tuesday appears to be the last chance for the Tea Party to knock off an incumbent senator in a Republican primary. If Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel fails to defeat Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi, it could very well be seen as the Tea Party's Waterloo.
After two election cycles of Tea Party Senate candidates emerging victorious in Republican Senate primaries (and well over half of them ending up losing the general election), it is safe to say that the 2014 primary cycle has been disappointing for the Tea Party and their big money allies like FreedomWorks and Club for Growth. There is yet to be a single Republican U.S. Senate nominee this cycle to be added to the lexicon of names like Rand Paul, Christine O'Donnell, Sharron Angle, Ken Buck, Mike Lee, Joe Miller, Linda McMahon, Ted Cruz, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock. (It is arguable that Nebraska's senate nominee this cycle, Ben Sasse, can be included on this list but he is not because both Tea Party and the establishment seemed to ultimately be fine with him in the primary. There were no clear "establishment vs. Tea Party" candidates in that race).
The fear that Republican incumbents have of the Tea Party is not unwarranted. Many powerful and long-serving Republican senators have fallen in primaries the past two cycles including Bob Bennett, Lisa Murkowski (although she went on to win the general as a write-in candidate), and (perhaps most notably) Richard Lugar. As history shows, the Tea Party has the resources to topple incumbents, but so far they have been unable to do so this cycle.
Chris McDaniel is the Tea Party's last chance to keep the fear of losing re-nomination alive for Republican incumbents in 2016 and 2018. If they go a whole election cycle without toppling an incumbent senator, this fear will be eased, weakening a source of what has made the Tea Party so powerful within the G.O.P. The Tea Party will be seen as a political trend that has peaked. Their future candidates will also be taken less seriously by the media as well, meaning less ability to increase their candidates' name recognition. This declining media attention will pave the Tea Party's road to obscurity. The only way the Tea Party avoids this is with a McDaniel victory Tuesday.
The Tea Party appears to be going in to Tuesday's primary with momentum on their side. Last Tuesday, the Tea Party achieved two major victories in Texas, toppling their first incumbents of the cycle (although none of them were U.S. Senate incumbents). The oldest man in Congress, Ralph Hall, lost re-nomination to his Tea Party challenger John Ratcliffe (not to be confused with the villain from Pocahontas) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst lost his re-nomination to state senator and UMBC alumnus Dan Patrick. Dewhurst's loss makes him a two-time Tea Party victim, as he also lost to now-Sen. Ted Cruz in the 2012 U.S. Senate primary.
However, whether this momentum means anything is yet to be seen, considering the Tea Party has always had more success in Texas the most other states. Mississippi is not Texas, and the Tea Party has never really gained much traction there. The poorest state in the union, Mississippi receives a great deal of funding from the federal government, funding that Sen. Cochran, the ranking member on the appropriations committee, is most responsible for getting to the Delta. A Sen. McDaniel would not be so reliable, as he has a much stronger anti-spending stance than Cochran does.
Also, the primary has taken an unusual turn over the past few weeks. This is due to the arrest of a number of McDaniel supporters for being involved in taking photographs of Cochran's wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer's Disease. This story has dominated the media attention given to race over the past few weeks and it has put a wrench into McDaniel's campaign. If a Tea Party candidate can still manage to win despite the national negative attention a case like this receives, then we will have to live with the Tea Party for years to come.
For Democrats, the candidate who they should root for in the primary is a dilemma. On one hand, if McDaniel wins, the seat is legitimately in play for Democrats, as presumptive nominee Former Rep. Travis Childers is polling rather well in a head-to-head with McDaniel. On the other hand, if Cochran wins, the Tea Party will inevitably lose influence, meaning that it may be easier to come together and compromise to get bills passed and things done. Morally, the choice may seem obvious, but if McDaniel loses the primary and the Republicans pick up the Senate (a slightly easier task if Cochran wins), the Democrats' power in Washington will suffer a huge blow.
Nevertheless, it appears that either candidate may win on Tuesday, although conventional wisdom suggests that Cochran is the slight favorite. Will McDaniel join the ranks of Tea Party victors Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee or will he join the ranks of failed 2014 candidates Matt Bevin, Greg Brannon, and Paul Broun? The implications of this race are enormous, and I am very excited to see what happens on Tuesday.