Georgia was not the only state having primary elections on May 20, and both Georgia and a number of other states saw a similar election trend, with Tea Party backed candidates losing in race after race. It was not just candidates like Tea Party backed businessman Matt Bevin who challenged Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky who faced hard defeats, but an aggressive Tea Party challenge to Georgia House Speaker David Ralston which also went nowhere.
The Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, the largest Tea Party organization in Georgia, joined other conservative and Tea Party groups to form an independent campaign committee, the Georgia Integrity Project (GIP). GIP put a lot of resources into defeating the leader of the Georgia House, but never even got close. Speaker Ralston easily defeated his opponent with nearly 65 percent of the vote. GIP has vowed in an email to supporters to continue the pressure against Ralston in other House Districts around Georgia by running ads against the Speaker, apparently designed to pressure members of the Republican Caucus to remove Ralston as Speaker next January. Given their lackluster performance in that race, it is hard to see such ads having the desired effect.
Karen Handel's primary race was also heavily backed by the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots, as well as the Sacramento, California based Tea Party Express, and Tea Party heroes like Sarah Palin, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and former Presidential candidate and U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. Handel, like Bevin in Kentucky, was also backed by conservative radio commentator and RedState.com editor Erick Erickson.
A bright spot in Georgia for the Atlanta Tea Party Patriots and the GIP may have been the race against Don Balfour, where the group sent out direct mail against Balfour, and candidate Mike Beaudreau proudly wore the Tea Party label. Beaudreau is facing Lawrenceville City Councilman P. K. Martin in the runoff.
Over the past few weeks since the Georgia and Kentucky primaries, the Tea Party has not fared much better across the country. One place the Tea Party did claim a huge victory was in the Virginia re-election of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Cantor's loss to Economics Professor Dave Brat shocked the political establishment and marked the first time in U.S. history that a Majority Leader of either party was thrown out of office in a primary. The next closest leadership primary defeat was in 1992 when long time National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Guy Vander Jagt (R-MI) lost his primary, likely for much the same reason Cantor did -- by spending more time worrying about other Congressional Districts than his own.
The Tea Party was quick to claim the victory, but those closest to campaign were quick to question how much influence the Tea Party had in the race against Cantor who, early on, was a strong supporter of the Tea Party movement.
Shaun Griffin, a Virginia political consultant who also volunteered on the Brat campaign, does not believe the Tea Party had much to do with Brat's victory. "It was more of a groundswell of discontent towards everything he stood for here in Richmond," said Griffin who added. "Both the left and the right have a keen interest in labeling it a Tea Party victory."
Added to that is the loss the Tea Party suffered in the Mississippi Senate runoff between incumbent Thad Cochran and State Senator Chris McDaniel. Cochran, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1978, came in second in the Mississippi Republican Primary, but handily won the runoff by appealing to Democrat voters who hadn't voted in the Democratic Primary (Mississippi state law prohibits a voter from voting in one party's primary and another party's runoff).
The theory that this election year would be a hard one for federal incumbents, given Congress's overall low approval rating, is turning out to be off the mark. In addition to Cochran, longtime Democratic New York Representative Charlie Rangel won his 23rd term in Congress, which he says will be his last, despite multiple primary challengers.
So far in 2014, the only two members of Congress to lose their primaries for re-election have been Cantor and 91-year-old Texas Congressman Ralph Hall.
In the end, this trend can be explained by two old axioms; first, voters hate Congress but love their Congressman; and second, despite the Tea Party trying to make every election a national referendum, all politics are local.