North Carolina was the opening battleground in the fight between the Republican Party's two main factions, and it's a sign the establishment's no-holds-barred strategy is paying off. American Crossroads spent $1.6 million on behalf of Tillis, significantly more than the resources of Republican challengers Greg Brannon and Mark Harris. They aired three ads, which each touted Tillis's conservative record and rebutted Democratic attacks against him.At Slate, David Weigel weighs "Tea Party" performance:
Their strategy was twofold: Spend early to avoid a financially costly runoff that could wound Tillis for the general election and begin to make the case against embattled Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. It worked, with Tillis winning well over 40 percent across the board, in most North Carolina counties.
"The stakes were pretty high for us to get him there," American Crossroads Political Director Carl Forti said. "We may have had to spend significantly more to get [Tillis] through a runoff, and that's money that's not going to other important races."
The Karl Rove-aligned super PAC took heat last year from conservatives for announcing the formation of the Conservative Victory Project, an effort designed to prevent less-electable candidates from winning primaries. But with considerably less fanfare, the group achieved the same results by employing a similar strategy to boost Tillis. Crossroads officials said that it's likely they will get involved in additional primaries, given the successful outcome in North Carolina.
Here we can distinguish between two types of Tea Party organizations, hence the scare quotes. The Tea Party Leadership Fund (TPLF), basically a buck-raking operation, spent 2014 telling gullible conservative donors that it could take out John Boehner. Boehner won renomination by 47 points. FreedomWorks was not, in 2010 or 2012, a shadow organization like the TPLF, but it's having a rotten year. It endorses candidates and then fails to get behind them. It endorsed Katrina Pierson, who lost an underfunded race in Texas, and it lost two more races last night—state Rep. Matt Lynch's congressional primary challenge in Ohio, and Dr. Greg Brannon's attempt to force a runoff in North Carolina's Senate race. At some point, activists might wonder if FreedomWorks is spending too much time promoting its president's books and too little time sending reinforcements into the states.
But you can't wag the finger at a couple of faltering activists and say "the Tea Party's done!" Local Tea Party groups are doing better—the Ohio Citizens PAC, which grew out of Tea Party groups that had tangled with the IRS, claimed five victories in state legislative races. As Eliana Johnson points out, the biggest-spending (Senate Conservatives Fund) and most feared (Club for Growth) insurgent groups basically stayed out of the races I mentioned before. They're concentrating more on the open-seat primary in Nebraska and the race against Washington fixture Sen. Thad Cochran. Oh, and besides: