Sen. Thad Cochran may have won Mississippi’s GOP Senate run-off last week, but his tactics of courting normally Democratic voters, including high numbers of African Americans, has enraged tea party activists in Mississippi and that anger has rippled across the Republican landscape.
The outrage among tea party supporters has spread to other states where conservatives are challenging establishment Republican candidates. Tea party activists perceive Cochran’s wooing as promising Democrats favors, as well as willing to do anything—even break with party principals—to win.
“This wasn’t outreach. Outreach is promoting our values in other communities,” said FreedomWorks executive vice president Adam Brandon. He said he believes Cochran wasn’t asking Democrats to “take another look at us.” Instead he was “just spreading cash around,” referring to financial promises they believe have been made to Democratic constituencies.
“Mississippi was a turning point, absolutely a turning point, no doubt about it because it wasn’t a battle for the heart and soul of the libertarian conservative Republican voter,” Brandon said. “We won that, we won it, our arguments carried the day with that voting bloc. It’s the desperation to turn to liberals to bail themselves out, bail their lobbyists out…That’s where they’ve been exposed.”
In Mississippi, the campaign of defeated tea party candidate state Sen. Chris McDaniel is investigating whether the Democratic votes in the Republican run-off were legal. It is legal for Democrats to vote for Cochran if they hadn’t already voted in the Democratic primary on June 3. McDaniel’s team is checking those votes.
Tennessee State Rep. Joe Carr, the tea partier challenging incumbent and former governor Sen. Lamar Alexander, says conservatives in Tennessee were “shocked that the establishment would go to such lengths to incorporate the message of liberal Democrats…soliciting their vote for the sole reason to stay in power.”
“After the disappointment wore off something remarkable has happened,” Carr said. While stumping last week a voter told him, “We have gotten over the grief and we are mad as hell and our heads have exploded.”
“They are more interested in holding on to power than advancing the principals that embody the (Republican) platform. I think you are seeing a level of energy in Tennessee I have never seen before,” Carr said. “They have done this at their own peril.”
In Kansas, incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts is being challenged by Milton Wolf, a physician who is also a distant cousin of President Obama. Their primary is in August and Wolf told ABC News “conservatives are infuriated by what the GOP establishment did in Mississippi.”
“It’s an absolute betrayal of what our party stands for,” Wolf said.
“If the Republican establishment are using our resources and contributions to turn out Democratic voters, then what’s the point of being Republican anymore?” Wolf asked.
He said Kansans he meets on the campaign trail are “livid” and he’s seen both contributions and volunteer sign ups “skyrocket” since Cochran’s victory, but in state polls, he still trails Roberts by double digits.
Republican presidential candidates must consistently try to woo voters across the aisle and although Ronald Reagan is revered amongst this group, they say what he did to bring in “Reagan Democrats” to the GOP could not be more different.
“Reagan Democrats were conservatives, they were simply members of the Democrat party,” Wolf said. “(Cochran) reached out to liberal Democrats to interfere with a Republican primary. It’s a very different thing. Ronald Reagan knew to stand boldly for conservative principals of limited government and individual freedom, not what the current batch of Republicans stand for.”
Some tea partiers have said for years it is time for a permanent break from the Republican Party, but Cochran’s victory has made those calls louder. Ken Cuccinelli is the head of the Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group which boosts tea party challengers over some Republican incumbents. In an interview with ABC, Cuccinelli said he doesn’t agree that there should be a new party, but if the “tactics” used in Mississippi are repeated “the more people aren’t just going to talk about that, they’re going to start doing it. And that’s going to be destructive to their goal of clenching on to power.”
“They’re in danger of breaking this party in half,” Cuccinelli said. “It isn’t the conservatives that are going to do that. We’re right where the Republican Party is supposed to be: smaller government, less power, more freedom, and they’re running from that. They’re the ones who are breaking this party apart. So if that happens…it’s on the establishment folks who are doing it. ”
Brian Donahue, a GOP consultant who works with both establishment and tea party candidates, says the only way to not only make up, but win is by being the happy not angry warrior.
“Anger doesn’t win elections, anger doesn’t improve a party or bring success,” Donahue said. “What the right, what the tea party conservatives, what other members of our party need to figure out is a way is to grow the party in order to be successful.”
ABC’s Jeff Zeleny contributed to this report.