In Kentucky, Sen.
McConnell now faces what will probably be a more significant challenge in the general election from Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who glided to the Democratic nomination.
In Idaho, as in Kentucky, an effort by conservative groups to unseat an establishment ally of House Speaker
Another key GOP primary was the open Senate seat in Georgia, where the crowded field ensured a July runoff. The most conservative candidates, however, failed to advance.
Tuesday's balloting in six states marked the busiest primary election date yet this year, and the latest to produce disappointing results for tea party forces. Candidate Ben Sasse's victory in last week's Nebraska Senate primary stands as one of the few tea party successes this year, but came in an open-seat contest in which multiple candidates had claimed the conservative mantle.
Despite the early successes in primaries, Republican leaders were reluctant to openly celebrate their victory over the conservative groups they've criticized in the past. Boehner told reporters Tuesday that the tea party had "brought great energy to our political process."
"There's not that big a difference between what you all call the tea party and your average conservative Republican," he said.
McConnell's ability to outmaneuver his challenger was emblematic of GOP leaders' success thus far in curtailing the influence of conservative groups. Considered one of his party's most astute political strategists, he saw firsthand the tea party at its strongest in the 2010 campaign, when
Securing Paul's endorsement was the first step in McConnell's reelection bid. He also quickly and aggressively worked to highlight aspects of Bevin's business career that put him in conflict with tea party orthodoxy. The Senate Conservatives Fund, one of the groups that had opposed McConnell, was quick to pledge its support for him in November.
The race between McConnell and Grimes promises to be one of the most expensive of the midterm campaign. It will pit Grimes' call to replace the man
McConnell's pitch relies heavily on his potential status as the next majority leader, while casting the 35-year-old Democrat as simply another vote to keep President Obama's party in control of the chamber.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats in November to reclaim majority status for the first time since 2007. If they do so and McConnell succeeds, he would be in line to replace Nevada Democrat
In Georgia, David Perdue, a millionaire former business executive, won the most votes to claim a spot in the July runoff against
Karen Handel, the former secretary of state, came in third; behind her were the most conservative candidates,
Handel made a bid for a late surge with her feisty campaign and big-name backers, including tea party favorite
Kingston's early missteps — he suggested schoolchildren should work for their lunches — were smoothed by a pivotal endorsement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The eventual Republican winner will face Michelle Nunn, who easily won the Democratic primary. The political novice who also has a famous family name — her father is the still-popular former Sen. Sam Nunn — faces an uphill climb in November, but she hopes to take advantage of demographics that are shifting the red state toward purple. Georgia and Kentucky are widely seen Democrats' only chances to pick up a Republican-held seat in the fall.
To the west in Oregon, Republicans were buoyed by the victory of Monica Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, who was seen as the candidate with the most potential to challenge first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley.
McConnell this week called Wehby one of the GOP's star candidates, sharing with supporters her slogan, "Replace your senator, not your doctor." It's a potentially strong line of attack in a state that has struggled with the rollout of its health insurance exchange.
But Wehby has also been confronted in the last week with the release of separate harassment allegations by her then-husband and by a former boyfriend.
In Pennsylvania, wealthy businessman Tom Wolf secured the Democratic nomination to face off against Republican