They’ve spent loads of money, and, in some cases, have energized the grassroots against the so-called Republican establishment.
But so far this year, conservative challengers have failed to topple a single incumbent Republican senator: John Cornyn of Texas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Thad Cochran of Mississippi and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have all been victorious over their tea party rivals.
That makes this week — when voters go to the polls in Kansas and Tennessee — the last chance this primary cycle when a conservative challenger could take out a Republican incumbent senator, replacing them on the ballot in November.
In Kansas, radiologist Milton Wolf, who boasts of being related to Barack Obama, is angling to beat Sen. Pat Roberts in Tuesday’s Republican primary. In Tennessee, state House Rep. Joe Carr is challenging Sen. Lamar Alexander in Thursday’s vote.
Polling indicates that both Roberts and Alexander are heavily favored to win their races.
A recent poll by Survey USA shows Roberts up by 20 points.
But last week, the Senate Conservatives Fund, which endorsed Wolf, celebrated a poll they commissioned showing Wolf down just nine points.
“We just received the results of our latest poll in the Republican primary for U.S. Senate in Kansas, and the race is down to single digits!! Conservative Dr. Milton Wolf (R-KS) has cut Senator Pat Roberts’ lead down to just nine points and only trails 41-32,” the Senate Conservatives Fund said in a fundraising solicitation.
Like in Kansas, polling in the Tennessee race is all over the board: Alexander’s campaign released a poll showing him leading Carr by 29 points. A poll sponsored by the Tea Party Nation shows Alexander up by just eight points.
While both challengers are down in the polls, conservatives point out the same was true for David Brat, the conservative professor who surprisingly defeated now-former House majority leader Eric Cantor in Virginia’s GOP primary earlier this year.
Since Brat’s victory, both Wolf and Carr have tried to position themselves as the next David Brat.
“Eric Cantor isn’t the only incumbent from Virginia who is going to lose his primary this year,” Wolf said when Cantor lost. “On August 5th, it’s Pat Roberts’ turn.”
“While we certainly didn’t predict that Dave Brat would win, we did believe this was an unconventional political year,” Carr said on CNBC after Brat’s win. “Lamar Alexander should be scared to death.”
In Kansas, Wolf has portrayed Roberts, who has been in the Senate since 1997, of being detached from Kansas. He has raised questions about Roberts’ residency after it was revealed the senator doesn’t live in a home of his own in the state anymore. Meanwhile, Wolf has vowed to be a conservative warrior against Obamacare.
“I am a doctor, not a politician, and when I go to Washington, I will fight for our Kansas conservative values,” Wolf said Sunday.
Roberts’ campaign has attacked Wolf for posting gruesome X-ray photos of gunshot victims on Facebook. They’ve portrayed the senator as a steady leader.
“Kansans have a tough and tested conservative fighting for them in Washington,” Roberts campaign website says. “They have put their trust in Senator Roberts, and he delivered.”
In Tennessee, Carr has been attacking Alexander for not sufficiently standing up against the Obama administration. Last week, for example, the campaign hit the senator for missing a procedural vote on an amendment to “block the President’s ability to offer unilateral amnesty.”
“For months, Lamar Alexander has avoided participating in any public debates in Tennessee, using the excuse that he debates ‘every day on the Senate floor’. Last night, when the time came to stand with conservatives against Barack Obama and Harry Reid, Lamar Alexander wasn’t there,” Carr said.
On Monday, Alexander announced that he and Republican Gov. Bill Haslam will campaign across the state ahead of Thursday’s election. He argued he is the “stronger” candidate in the race.
“By running strong candidates and keeping an open door, the Republican Party has become larger, more conservative and more successful,” Alexander said.
The primary season will come to an end over the next month. After this week, a competitive Republican primary will take place in Alaska for the opportunity to take on Democratic incumbent Mark Begich in November.
Some conservatives are still holding out hope in Mississippi, where Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel narrowly lost the June 24 run-off with Cochran but has yet to concede citing evidence of voter irregularities. Most observers, however, note that any election challenge lodged by McDaniel would likely be an uphill battle.