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GOP Candidates Try To Hold Off Tea Party Picks In Primaries


OK, so that's the governor's race in Pennsylvania; a battle among Democrats. The other races we'll be watching closely tomorrow are mainly those among Republicans who want to serve in the Senate, and they are hoping it is a Senate with a GOP majority.

To walk us through some of these races, we're joined as we are most Mondays by Cokie Roberts. Cokie, good morning.


GREENE: And here in the studio with me is NPR senior Washington editor Ron Elving. Ron, good morning to you.

RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you, David.

GREENE: Ron, let me start with you. All year we have been talking about what some are calling a civil war in the Republican Party; these Tea Party challengers taking on establishment candidates. And this year the GOP establishment has been spending money to fight back. The biggest front in this war seems to be in Kentucky, we've got Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell up against Tea Party challenger Matt Bevin. I mean how are McConnell's chances looking?

ELVING: Better than good, David. Mitch McConnell would have been the biggest scalp that the various elements of anti-establishment Republicanism would have gone after this year. He didn't look like he was that strong in the polls in Kentucky and because he is such a strong figure in Washington he's associated with Washington. Matt Bevin looked like a guy who could unite all those disparate elements of anti-establismentism.

But it really hasn't happened for Matt Bevin. He got caught up in a controversy over cock fighting. And Mitch McConnell matched those millions and did better and traveled all over raising money. And he's just a great politician. He maneuvers beautifully. He'll win by at least 20 points, according to the polls, maybe a good deal more.

GREENE: Cokie, is this potentially a big win here for the establishment?

ROBERTS: Yes, and I think that we're seeing that over and over. The Democrats have a candidate that they're very enthusiastic about in Kentucky, Alison Grimes, and they think they have a real shot there, but as Ron says, Mitch McConnell is a terrific politician, and even people who don't like him, and there are a lot of those, say they'll vote for him.

So I think that that's one that the Democrats are going to have a very tough time getting.

GREENE: We often say that it's all about winning and losing, but I mean if McConnell wins this primary but not by as much, I mean could that send a message that the Tea Party, you know, has an influence there?

ROBERTS: Well, the Tea Party has an influence, we know that. I mean, it's got an influence all over the place and it's pushing the Republican Party to the right. But the question is, can they win? And the establishment's working very hard this year to make sure they don't.

GREENE: Well, Cokie, let's talk about another state. In Georgia, there's a familiar Democratic name Republicans want to take on and we're seeing Republicans duke it out to see who will be taking that name on. Remind us who the name is and tell us about the Republican field.

ROBERTS: Well, Michelle Nunn is the Democrat. She's the daughter of long time Democratic Senator Sam Nunn. She's been a civic activist in Georgia for a great many years, head of the Points of Light Foundation, and Democrats are very excited about her race. The Republican field has been quite crowded, and, of course, the big hope of the Democrats there was that the Republicans would nominate someone who was so far to the right that it would be very helpful to the Democrats.

That doesn't seem to be what's likely to happen. They are likely to go to a runoff, but the runoff seems likely to be among three more moderate or mainstream candidates, businessman David Perdue and Congressman Jack Kingston and state office holder Karen Handel. So the Democrats are not getting their wish there in Georgia, the Tea Party candidate.

GREENE: Ron, one of the storylines this year has been Democrats looking vulnerable and a lot of concern in the party. Oregon, a state where that might be happening and we might not expect it.

ELVING: That's right. Jeff Merkley didn't seem to have a lot of problems going into this election, but, of course, Oregon has had a huge problem with their state-run Obamacare exchange, which finally had to, essentially, be taken over by the federal government at a great cost. That has hurt the Democratic brand there. Plus, there has always been a suppressed Republican strength in Oregon that just hasn't been able to put it together statewide for some time there.

And they thought they'd found an ideal candidate in a woman named Monica Wehby. She's a 52-year-old pediatric brain surgeon and she looked like she might have a really good shot in the general election, but she's got a really difficult race on her hands tomorrow, when she's running against Jason Conger, who is a state legislator there who's been supported by a great variety of social and economic conservative groups against Monica Wehby.

And she's been hampered by a story that came out last week about one of her supporters, somebody's who's given her six figures in this race to a SuperPAC, who was, well, they had a previous relationship that a year ago resulted in that supporter filing a police report about her.

GREENE: Can I ask you both - I mean, this whole narrative, I mean the Tea Party sort of pushing the Republican establishment, you know, civil war within the Republican Party, vulnerable Democrats, I mean any surprises we're seeing that they might be changing that narrative or does that seem to be the way this election year's shaping out?

ROBERTS: Well, it's not a surprise by this stage of the game, but the fight back on the part of the Republican mainstream is significant because they feel that they can win the Senate and in the last two cycles they could've and they didn't. And today the newspaper Politico has a poll out taken in states with competitive Senate elections in districts with competitive House seats and it's showing by 41 to 34 percent that voters are saying they prefer Republicans in this election cycle.

Now, that might not hold over in November, but it's showing the Republicans have some clout and they want to make sure that they don't lose it.

GREENE: All right. Cokie Roberts joins us most Mondays. Ron Elving, a special guest in the studio today, thank you both very much.

ELVING: Thank you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ron Elving is Senior Editor and Correspondent on the Washington Desk for NPR News, where he is frequently heard as a news analyst and writes regularly for
Cokie Roberts was one of the 'Founding Mothers' of NPR who helped make that network one of the premier sources of news and information in this country. She served as a congressional correspondent at NPR for more than 10 years and later appeared as a commentator on Morning Edition. In addition to her work for NPR, Roberts was a political commentator for ABC News, providing analysis for all network news programming.