Political scorecard shows tea party has dismal won-lost record

Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran
Veteran Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran will be the next candidate to test the strength of the GOP establishment. He faces a June 24 runoff against tea party insurgent Chris McDaniel.
(Rogelio V. Solis / Associated Press)

For those closely following the midterm elections it may seem a bit like a roller coaster, or watching one of those zombie movies where the undead awaken and rise from the big dirt nap.

We speak, naturally, of the “tea party” and its varied fortunes one week to the next:  The insurgents have won in Nebraska, look out GOP establishment! No, they’ve lost in Kentucky, put those pitchforks away! No, wait, Eric Cantor just got walloped in Virginia, the tea party reigns supreme!



An earlier version of this post said misstated the won-lost record of tea party candidates this election season, due to an error in the original calculations made by the Brookings Institution.


Just in time, the Brookings Institution has issued a study offering some clarity and, most helpful, a scorecard of tea party wins and losses. Per the study, researchers identified the ideology of every House and Senate candidate running this year and compiled a won-loss record through Tuesday’s primaries.

The bottom line: If the tea party were a baseball team, it would be mired deep in the cellar.

In primaries and runoffs without incumbents, 16 tea party House candidates have won the GOP nomination in their districts and 81 have lost, according to the study. Four tea party Senate primary candidates have won — including one, Tom Cotton, who ran unopposed in Arkansas — and 30 have lost.

The data “back up the narrative of the Republican primary season to date, which is that for the most part, the GOP establishment has summoned the strength and will to overcome the tea party,” wrote Brookings research analyst Jill Lawrence, a veteran political journalist.

But to switch sports metaphors, to football this time, an unexpected event — a fumble, say, or an interception, or onside kick — can immediately change the tempo and momentum of a game.

In that sense, Rep. Cantor’s defeat was so shocking and reverberated so far and wide that it could be one of those proverbial political game-changers. “The historic, first-ever ouster of a House majority leader in a primary has changed the psychology of the 2014 midterms,” Lawrence wrote. “Keep an eye on the remaining primaries and runoffs to see if it will also change the pattern of results.”

Election-watchers won’t have long to wait. The next big test comes June 24 when six-term Mississippi Republican Sen. Thad Cochran faces a runoff against tea party challenger Chris McDaniel.

For more on politics, follow me on Twitter @markzbarabak