The influential organization that’s made its name as a prickly thorn-in-the-side of establishment Republicans showcased six of its endorsed candidates, including two who are challenging members of the highest echelons of party leadership.
Bell manufacturer Matt Bevin is attempting to topple Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky and local tea party activist Katrina Pierson is seeking to oust nine-term Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas, the former head of the National Republican Congressional Committee. The two GOP primary slogs will serve as acute barometers of the staying power of the tea party movement five years after it exploded onto the political scene.
“It’s really about establishment incumbents that have been there way too long that have gotten comfortable with business as usual,” said FreedomWorks political action committee President Matt Kibbe, in a familiar refrain of the organization’s focus.
Pierson, who has a complimentary quote from Cruz splashed on the homepage of her website, flexed her insurgent moxie by pledging to oppose John Boehner as House speaker.
“I do support replacing John Boehner as speaker. I think his leadership has gone completely against the grain of what the mainstream Republicans on the ground feel,” she told reporters during a question-and-answer session with the candidates.Sessions adviser Brad Todd summarily dismissed Pierson's chances, quipping, "She’s so far behind she’d need airfare to catch up."
Bevin warned that in a year when they have their hearts set on winning back control of the Senate, Republicans will be at a “tremendous risk” of losing the Kentucky seat with McConnell as the nominee.
“We’ve run the risk of losing this seat because of a sense of apathy and a sense of fatigue for the career politician that is my opponent in this primary,” he said.
While the latest Bluegrass poll found Bevin trailing McConnell by 26 points ahead of the May primary, it also showed Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes ahead of the five-term incumbent by four points.
“She cannot get the anti-Mitch vote when she’s running against me. That’s a significant chunk of the voting block that are simply voting against him,” Bevin argued.
Whereas McConnell is saddled with unpopularity, Bevin is combating unfamiliarity and faces a gargantuan disadvantage financially.
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McConnell’s team asserts that the little-known challenger would get eaten up in a general election once he was placed under the klieg lights of a nationally tracked race.
“Matt Bevin is reaching pathetic lows in misrepresenting himself to appear credible. Polling actually shows that self-identified liberals are the only group willing to elect Matt Bevin over Mitch McConnell,” responded McConnell campaign spokeswoman Allison Moore.
Perhaps the only Republican incumbent more vulnerable than McConnell is Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, who only announced in December he would seek a seventh term.
State Sen. Chris McDaniel has seized on Cochran’s lethargic campaign and already has pulled into a virtual dead heat with the incumbent, polling shows.
On Monday, McDaniel portrayed his opponent as a creature of Washington who barely spends time in the state – a tag that helped sink former Sen. Dick Lugar in Indiana in 2012.
“I’ve been a state senator for seven years. I’ve seen Sen. Cochran one time and that was in Washington, D.C. I have friends of mine in their 50s that have never physically laid eyes on him. Spoke to group a few days ago of 70 men at a church breakfast, not a single person had ever physically laid eyes on Sen. Cochran. How can one be responsive to the will of the people if he doesn’t know the will of the people? He’s almost never in the state,” McDaniel charged.
Cochran’s spokesman Jordan Russell called the accusation “too absurd for a response.”