The tea party referendum has officially begun.
Despite the success of tea party candidates all over the country in 2010, many top GOP Senate candidates have avoided the same kind of tough insider-outsider primary matchups that made the summer of 2010 so
Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) faces a tough primary challenge. (J. Scott Applewhite – AP Photo) interesting. The latest is New Mexico Republican Heather Wilson, a moderate whose more-conservative opponent dropped out of the race this week.
But that doesn’t mean the tea party doesn’t have its chances this year.
The Club for Growth’s endorsement of Indiana state Treasurer Richard Mourdock over Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) this week cements that race as the biggest tea party-versus-establishment Senate contest of the cycle. And it may set the tone for the rest of the year.
But there are six other tea party-versus-establishment races worth keeping an eye on. The Fix looks at each of them in chronological order.
* April 21: Utah state nominating convention: This is where Sen. Robert Bennett (R-Utah) was unseated two years ago, and now tea party types are eyeing Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). Hatch’s top opponent is state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Either man secures the nomination if he gets 60 percent of the vote at the convention; otherwise they go to a one-on-one primary.
* May 8 — Indiana primary: The Club’s backing should help Mourdock raise money, and if it can help him beat Lugar, this race will also likely become a battleground in the fall, where Rep. Joe Donnelly and the Democrats are praying for a Mourdock matchup.
* May 5 — Nebraska primary: State Attorney General Jon Bruning has been endorsed by the Tea Party Express, but state treasurer Don Stenberg better fits the bill of tea party candidate; he’s meagerly funded, a conservative crusader and has the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
* May 29 (?) — Texas primary: We don’t yet know when Texas’s primary will be, due to the current court battle over redistricting. But whenever it’s held, the tea party will be pulling for former state solicitor general Ted Cruz over the very well-funded Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. For now, the name of the game for Cruz is at least finishing second and hoping for a runoff with Dewhurst.
* Aug. 7 — Michigan primary: Businessman Clark Durant is hoping to take down former congressman Pete Hoekstra and has secured some establishment support in that quest. Hoekstra has a big early lead, though, in large part because basically nobody knows who Durant is yet.
* Aug. 14 — Wisconsin primary: Former governor Tommy Thompson is looking like he may actually be an underdog against former congressman Mark Neumann, another Club for Growth-endorsed candidate. After Indiana, this may be the contest with the most tea party passion behind it.
* Aug. 28: — Arizona primary: As in Nebraska, this one doesn’t fit neatly into a tea-party-versus-non-tea-party box; this is more about outsider versus insider. Businessman Wil Cardon is the outsider candidate has self-funded $1.3 million so far to defeat Rep. Jeff Flake in the GOP primary. At the same time, Flake has strong ties to the tea party movement and has been endorsed by the tea party group FreedomWorks. As in Indiana, a loss by the establishment candidate here could put this seat very much in play for the Democrats, who like their chances with former U.S. surgeon general Richard Carmona.
If Cardon and Mourdock win, expect to see those two races on this list in the near future. In the meantime, only Wisconsin and Nebraska make the cut.