Yesterday, the research and policy think-tank Brookings Institution launched "The Primary Project," an examination of this year’s midterm congressional primaries as a way of gathering insight on the future of the Democratic and Republican parties. Since primaries are considered the "neglected stepchildren of American elections," as Brookings called it, they are the races that are least likely to garner media coverage or intensive study.
"Since incumbent members of Congress pay as much – and often more – attention to their primary constituency as they do to the general election, we want to know what shapes the worldviews of Congress," wrote Elaine Kamarck, founding director of Brookings’ Center for Effective Public Management.
The biggest question they’ll be looking at: Is the Tea Party dead, yet? Both Republican leaders House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have already begun publicly dismissing the Tea Party as nuisances. But they want be able to swat them away so easily.
This graph below looks at the kinds of primary challengers in Republican races held thus far in Illinois and Texas. Of the challengers, those of the Tea Party brand clearly outweigh all other types.
The special election in Florida a couple weeks ago wasn’t a primary. But the Tea Party candidate David Jolly won, and in a district he wasn’t expected to carry, and without the support of the Republican Party. If that doesn’t signal that the party is still alive and tea-baggin’, then I don’t know what is.
That said, Tea Party candidates failed miserably in both the Illinois and Texas primaries held so far. We’ll be watching the body count closely as well.