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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

The GOP Drift-to-the-Right Continues Despite “Establishment” Wins

As the earlier staff post notes, the facile MSM take on the May 20 primaries is that the Republican Establishment rode to victory again. But when you look closely at the Senate contest in one key state, Georgia, it’s obvious that no “movement to the center” is underway. Here’s how I analyzed the results and trajectory at TPMCafe today:

One of the two “Establishment” candidates, Jack Kingston, ran a savagely ideological campaign that was on nearly every issue indistinguishable from a Tea Party crusade. He engaged in welfare demagoguery, embraced that hardy grassroots conservative pet rock, the Fair Tax, and bit the Chamber of Commerce hand that was feeding him by assaulting the Common Core education initiative as “Obamacare for Education.” And no one would have been surprised had he painted the National Journal “most conservative record in the race” emblem that was featured in all his ads across the shabby station wagon that this career appropriator and quite wealthy man used to signify his skinflintedness.
He narrowly defeated former Secretary of State Karen Handel — another former “Establishment” figure who was transformed into a fiery ideologue after narrowly losing the 2010 governor’s race — on a sea of money and via the pull of geography. He outspent Handel roughly 5-to-1 — not counting the million or so the Chamber spent on his behalf. Just as importantly, he banked a huge advantage over Handel in and just beyond his southeast Georgia congressional district, and she couldn’t make it up in her metro Atlanta stronghold while competing with three other North Georgia candidates.
One of those, of course, was first-place finisher David Perdue, who spent nearly as much (and also had significant out-of-state Super PAC help) as Kingston, while espousing a stern but generic “hard-core conservative” message, to use his term. If his performance in the primary on Tuesday was especially pleasing to Mitch McConnell, it would have to be tempered by the fact that the Romneyesque former corporate turnaround specialist vowed not to vote for another McConnell term as Majority Leader.
Will Perdue and Kingston now join hands in a genial “Establishment” runoff, sure not to give ammunition to Democrat Michelle Nunn, who has run ahead of both of them in some recent polls? I doubt it. Kingston has already gone after Perdue for alleged support of Common Core (which, of course, Perdue, whose cousin Sonny was a national leader in the initiative, denies) and joined Handel and the rest of the field in blasting the front-runner for a recent reference to the need for more federal revenues (which Perdue did not, amazingly, follow up by immediately intoning an anti-tax-increase oath). And Perdue fans have to worry a bit that their man does have a tin ear and a tendency to unforced errors (he single-handedly lifted Handel into contention by casually disrespecting her — and countless Georgia voters — for failing to go to college).
It will be interesting to see how Georgia Tea Folk line up for the runoff. Herman Cain is already in Perdue’s corner. Late in the night, major Handel backer Erick Erickson said he’d support Kingston. In an unusually long runoff campaign (nine weeks), with both candidates having access to plenty of money, the steady drift-to-the-right that characterized the entire primary field could continue.

So the idea that Republican extremism was taken off the table in this race because Paul Broun and Phil Gingrey lost is not only premature, but flatly inaccurate. The “Tea” label isn’t the exclusive brand of the far right, despite Republican and MSM efforts to claim the GOP is a chastened and disciplined “Establishment” party again.

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