The Republican establishment is crowing over having defeated Tea Party candidates in several primaries this year, enhancing Republican prospects for victories in November.
Establishment Republicans face several more big tests in the next two-and-a-half months. First is a primary challenge against incumbent Republican Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi. On June 3, Cochran, a six-term senator, competes against right-wing challenger Chris McDaniel. Although the incumbent is ahead in all the polls, establishment Republicans are more worried about this contest than others.
If McDaniel, a state senator, pulls an upset, two questions arise: Will party leaders and committees get behind him after having assailed him for months? And can McDaniel hold what should be a safe Republican seat against former Democratic congressman Travis Childers?
An August primary in Michigan pits mainstream Republican challengers against two Tea Party members of the House. Both races will be closely watched, and may already have signaled to other right-wing mavericks that they can be challenged from their left in a primary.
Two-term Representative Justin Amash has been a thorn in the Republican leadership's side on a host of issues, in the National Security Agency's collection of metadata, which he vehemently opposes. Several House colleagues, including Michigan Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who is retiring this year, have contributed to his Amash's opponent, businessman Brian Ellis.
Freshman Republican and reindeer rancher, Kerry Bentivolio, also faces a challenge. Bentivolio wants to impeach President Barack Obama and says he "couldn't stand" to be in the same room with the president. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Bentivolio's opponent this week.
The bottom line: If the establishment wins in Mississippi and unseats these two Michigan lawmakers, it will culminate a disastrous election season for the once-rising Tea Party. If, however, the right-wingers win in Mississippi and one or two of those Michigan seats -- following a victory in Nebraska's senate primary this week by Benjamin Sasse -- the split within the party will continue.
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