Will the shutdown shut out the tea party's next generation?

Tea Party activists wave flags during a "Exempt America from Obamacare" rally, on Capitol Hill, September 10, 2013 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

On October 15, Chris McDaniel, a Republican state senator in Mississippi, held a press conference to say stay tuned for news - he would be making an announcement.

Two days later, a day after Congress passed a bill to end the 16-day government shutdown, the tea party backer announced that he would be challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in next summer's Republican primary. The Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund and the Madison Project PAC shortly thereafter endorsed McDaniel, which also happened to be one day after Cochran voted in favor of ending the government shutdown.

It was a deliberate series of events aimed squarely at juxtaposing the upstart tea party conservative with the establishment Cochran, who, when first elected in 1978, was the first Republican in more than 100 years to win a statewide election in Mississippi.

"There is a significant philosophical position between me and Senator Cochran. He has for many years been moving away from conservatism and away from the people of Mississippi. So the best way to distinguish myself from Senator Cochran is to focus on his voting record," McDaniel told CBS News.

As for the shutdown, estimated at costing the government and the economy $24 billion, an economic brunt that fell on the shoulders of federal workers, "it was an unfortunate result of standing for one's belief system," he added. "And if that's the case, then it may happen from time to time. It's happened 77 times since 1962 for goodness sakes."

Kentucky is another state bracing to be rocked and rolled by the GOP's soul-searching. Political novice Matt Bevin,who's taking aim at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in Kentucky's Republican primary, has also received an endorsement from the Senate Conservatives Fund. All of this money and support is being handed out, even as the tea party's favorability rating sank over the course of the shutdown.

All of which raises the question: Will the tea party-inspired government shutdown translate to victory for them in 2014?

Tea party candidates think so. After all, 67 percent of tea party supporters believe that most Americans share their views, a recent CBS News poll found. Candidates such as Bevin and McDaniel, validated by influential conservative groups, are using the attention that the shutdown generated as a springboard for approaching Senate races. The push to put people who do not want a strong federal government in the federal government stems from the popular tea party belief that established Washington folks are part of the country's problem.

"The go along to get along crowd of the last several decades has racked up $17 trillion dollars in debt, and the Republicans have been almost as bad as the Democrats," Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller told CBS News.

"What we need before it's too late, is members of Congress who will vote a pro-economic growth agenda, limit government and cut spending, that's how we evaluate what candidates to support, and we're proud of our record."

The extensive due diligence process that the Club for Growth utilizes to vet candidates has found success in the past - the 2010 win for the Kentucky-fried Rand Paul against Trey Grayson is a prime example of a momentous tea party victory. The Club for Growth was Paul's top campaign contributor. And of course, the Club for Growth is the mastermind behind the rise of the country's most famous tea partier, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

A Club for Growth endorsement is not as laughable as McConnell's campaign is trying to paint it to be, a spokeswoman for Bevin pointed out. She told CBS News that the campaign has been flooded with money in recent weeks, not just from across the country but also from inside Kentucky as people have become increasingly frustrated with McConnell.

There are notable Club for Growth and tea party organization fueled failures, though, including Richard Mourdock, whose 2012 win in a Republican primaryended the career of longtime Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Indiana. Mourdock went on to lose the election after asserting that pregnancies caused by rape are intended by God.

Not all tea party-aligned candidates are not as overwhelmingly turned on to Bevin as Camp Bevin or conservative groups would like to suggest. Pamela Mann, the former head of the Grant County, Ky., Republican Party, who has been a long standing supporter of the tea party, is a strong McConnell backer.

"Senator McConnell has been in Washington for a long time and he is the highest ranking Republican leader on the Hill," she said. "Why would I trade that for a freshman senator with absolutely no political experience of any kind?"

And in response to Bevin's campaign and others who are working to smear McConnell as a liberal, Mann reminds her tea party compatriots that McConnell was the one who led every Republican senator to vote against Obamacare.

"They are still very politically naive; they don't understand how this game works. And yeah, if Bevin was to beat McConnell, the Democrats would have a heyday with that man," Mann told CBS News. "A vote for Bevin is a vote to put a Democrat in a seat in the Senate where we have had a Republican there for nearly 30 years."

This is not to say that Kentuckians are happy with McConnell, thought, as recent polling suggests he's facing a tough re-election fight.

The political naiveté of the tea party that has been criticized by frustrated Republicans and Democrats alike is unabashedly echoed by other tea party candidates.

Milton Wolf, a radiologist and tea party activist, recently announced that he will challenge incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, in next year's primary. Wolf emphasized to CBS News that he is a doctor and not a politician - he does not think his positions through in terms of what is tactically strategic.

Wolf, who claims to be a distant cousin of President Obama, plans to differentiate himself from Roberts, by focusing on Roberts' voting record. Roberts most recently voted against the Senate bill to end the government shutdown and was deemed the fifth most conservative senator in 2013 by the conservative group, Heritage Action. Wolf believes that the shutdown did not go far enough.

"We have a shutdown that shut down 17 percent of the federal government. We sent non-essential employees home. We learned for example that the EPA declared that 96 percent of employees are non-essential. We should have sent those non-essential employees home $17 trillion dollars ago," he told CBS News.

While candidates such as McDaniel, Bevin and Wolf think the shutdown will propel them to victory, some wonder whether it will widen the opportunity gap for Democrats in solidly Republican states in 2014 races.

Brian Eppstein, a Fort Worth-based lobbyist and Republican political strategist, notes that ultimately it will come down to two issues: "I don't think voters will look back and think about systemic debate, I think they will look back and when they think about the issues, they are going to think about, 'do I like or dislike the Affordable Care Act' and 'do I agree or disagree that the federal government is too large?'"

Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor for The Cook Political Report, told CBS News that it is just too soon to tell how voters will feel about tea party candidates.

"Does their membership follow them? If the answer is yes, then they could give some of these candidates a raise," Duffy told CBS News. "The most viable primary candidate right now is Bevin against McConnell and he was up before the shutdown. He's got money. Which is the first major hurdle."

"But it's possible. Are they viable general election candidates?  I mean, look where these states are. They're very red states but I think that Democrats learned over the last two cycles that if they can recruit a decent candidate, they can be competitive."

  • Jacqueline Alemany

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