POLITICS: PennAve

Here's how three Senate candidates won over both the Establishment and the Tea Party

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Politics,Congress,Senate,Tea Party,Alaska,Arkansas,Iowa,2014 Elections,David M. Drucker,Campaigns,PennAve,Mark Pryor,Conservatism,Mark Begich,Bruce Braley

A Senate candidate landing endorsements from Tea Party groups and the Republican Establishment calls to mind Bill Murray in the 1984 hit film, "Ghostbusters": "Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!"

But it's possible.

Senate Conservatives Fund and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday both launched television ads supporting Senate candidate Joni Ernst in Iowa's June 3 Republican primary.

She's not alone. Two other Republicans in key Senate races -- Dan Sullivan, running in Alaska's contested Aug 19 primary; and Rep. Tom Cotton, the nominee in Arkansas -- also managed to unite the warring factions of the GOP and emerge as consensus picks.

In interviews with the Washington Examiner, Republican strategists moored in both the establishment and Tea Party camps revealed how the three candidates did it.

Ernst – Iowa

Ernst was a late bloomer. Early on, the Republican Establishment was cautious about the party's chances in Iowa. Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin is retiring and eastern Iowa attorney, four-term Rep. Bruce Braley, was running unopposed in the Democratic primary and viewed as the frontrunner.

But party operatives said they were monitoring the race and might be interested if Ernst won the nomination. With her farming and military backgrounds and the fact that she is a woman who has never served in Washington, GOP operatives in D.C. believed she presented Braley with the toughest match-up. “She really causes problems for him,” a Republican insider said.

Simultaneously, Tea Party conservatives were drawn to her positions on issues and sense of urgency about addressing the problems the country faces. And, they liked that Ernst worked hard to convince them that she is one of them and didn’t just try and use them for political cover.

"We support Joni Ernst because she's a principled conservative, she has strong grassroots support in Iowa, and she can win. These qualities have given Ernst broad appeal and helped her go from being the underdog to the front runner in this race," said Matt Hoskins, who runs Senate Conservatives Fund.

The ads themselves (from the chamber and Senate Conservatives Action) tell the story of what each wing of the party likes about her.

Sullivan — Alaska

With 2010 Tea Party favorite Joe Miller and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell running, Alaska could have been problematic for Republicans. But both quickly settled on Sullivan, a military veteran and former state attorney general.

Party operatives like his resume and the fact that he worked hard to raise money and garner broad support. His general election viability is further enhanced by his wife, a native Alaskan who could help him pull the crucial support of the state’s tribes.

The Establishment gravitated to Sullivan in part because Treadwell was a weak fundraiser who developed the perception of a candidate who wasn't working hard enough to beat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

“He’s a good guy; he would probably be a good senator. But he was lazy,” the Republican insider said.

Cotton — Arkansas

Cotton was an early consensus favorite to challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor, defying the narrative that the Establishment and the Tea Party would be doing battle in every primary.

The Establishment liked his pedigree (combat veteran, Harvard law, humble roots) and thought it made for a winning match up against an incumbent who was elected to the Senate in part on his former-senator-father’s coattails. The insurgents liked his unabashed conservatism and ability to argue and articulate it in public.

Club for Growth spokesman Barney Keller downplayed the significance of Cotton's deep fan base on the right, saying that "the Republican establishment always looks for the candidate that they deem most ‘electable' for various political reasons. Our PAC looks to support viable candidates that believe in economic freedom.” But a Republican strategist said Cotton possesses a unique combination of qualities.

“The rebels like his fearlessness and the guys in charge like his policy depth. Both sides respect the fact that he works his tail off as a candidate,” the strategist said.

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