McConnell crushes Tea Party challenger

(USA TODAY) -- Sen. Mitch McConnell decisively shut down a primary challenge to his 30-year tenure as the Republican choice for Senate in Kentucky. The Associated Press called the race for McConnell minutes after the last polls closed in the state Tuesday evening.

McConnell's primary victory over businessman and Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin is a victory for the mainstream GOP among primary races that have at times indicated the party is at war with itself.

McConnell raised more than twice as much money as Bevin, which he used to hammer his rival with attack ads. He also got a boost from his Kentucky colleague Sen. Rand Paul, also a Tea Party favorite.

Even before Tuesday's voting, McConnell's campaign had turned its focus to well-funded Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes. Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of State, won her primary Tuesday with little opposition.

McConnell will need to bring Bevin's supporters into his fold as he takes on Grimes, says political scientist Ernest Yanarella of the University of Kentucky. "I suspect the Tea Party may prove to be sore losers. They could very well just sit out the Senate election itself and that would certainly be bad news for him."

McConnell reached out to Bevin supporters Tuesday, telling them in his victory speech that "your fight is my fight.'' But he turned quickly to Grimes, calling her a "partisan's partisan'' and "Barack Obama's candidate.'' Obama is unpopular in the state, which he lost in both the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections.

McConnell, who is seeking a sixth term in office, said restoring Republican control of the Senate would "make this president accountable. ... Make me the majority leader and Kentucky will lead America."

In her own victory speech, Grimes said she is "not a rubber stamp and I am not a cheerleader ... I will answer to the people of Kentucky. I won't answer to the president no matter who he or she might be.''

For Democrats, the hot races were in Pennsylvania, where millionaire businessman Tom Wolf defeated three other Democrats including Rep. Allyson Schwartz to take on vulnerable Republican Gov.Tom Corbett. Wolf put $10 million of his own money into a campaign that flooded the state with TV ads to boost his name recognition.

In the Philadelphia suburbs, former Democratic Rep. Marjorie Margolies failed in her comeback attempt in the state's 13th congressional District. She lost by a wide margin to state Rep. Brendan Boyle, despite highly publicized support from both Bill and Hillary Clinton during her campaign. Margolies is Chelsea Clinton's mother-in-law.

Like the Kentucky race, a split between mainstream and conservative Republicans is on the ballot in Oregon, where surgeon Monica Wehby opposes state Rep. Jason Conger in the race to oppose incumbent Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley. Wehby is backed by 2012 GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and Conger has been endorsed by Rick Santorum, the 2012 candidate who beat Romney in Iowa.

In Georgia, Michelle Nunn, daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, was anointed the Democratic nominee to compete for the state's open Senate seat. Seven Republicans are running, including businessman David Perdue, former secretary of State, Karen Handel — endorsed by Sarah Palin — and U.S. Reps. Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston. If no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote, a runoff will be held July 22. Perdue has led in pre-election polls, so the real contest may be for the second-place spot to qualify for the runoff.

Contributing: Catalina Camia


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