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Opinion: Morning Examiner

Does the GOP Establishment's big win in Alaska Senate primary mean the Tea Party is dead?

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Mark Tapscott,Morning Examiner,Senate,Republican Party,Tea Party,Alaska,2014 Elections,Lisa Murkowski,Mark Begich

Dan Sullivan won Tuesday's Alaska Republican Senate primary pretty much as expected, taking 40 percent of the vote, followed by Tea Party insurgent Joe Miller with 32 percent and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell at 25 percent.

Sullivan was the choice of Republican Establishment powers like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and former Bush political strategist Karl Rove's American Crossroads PAC.

Miller, who pulled off a surprise win in this same primary against incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010 only to lose to her write-in campaign in November, never quite got traction in his second Senate campaign.

So this kills the Tea Party, right?

As much as some people want that to be true, the facts on the ground in Alaska point to the exact opposite conclusion.

To begin with, Sullivan also enjoyed the support of one of the key GOP insurgent groups, the Club for Growth, headed by former Rep. Chris Chocola.

Then there is former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, still one of the Tea Party's most popular heroes. Palin appointed Sullivan as attorney general shortly before her resignation in 2009.

Finally, there is the obvious unity of the Alaska GOP on the day after Sullivan's win. Miller and Treadwell offered congratulations last night and Miller had previously ruled out a Murkowski-like write-in effort if he lost the 2014 race.

What about Begich?

Mark Begich barely defeated Republican Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 and remains among the most vulnerable of Senate Democrats targeted this year, at least according to GOP strategists.

But Sullivan has his work cut out for him because Begich is making the most of his incumbency and embattled-underdog status, raising more than $8 million in campaign contributions to date.

Begich also benefits from Put Alaska First, a super PAC funded by national Democrats, that has already spent $3.9 million against Sullivan and will spend millions more between now and November.

So where does this leave the Tea Party?

Rather than evidence of Tea Party demise, Sullivan's win may also herald a growing maturity among the grassroots insurgents.

Republicans usually win elections when the party's grassroots are on the same page with its Establishment leaders. Sullivan effectively positioned himself as the unity candidate who could beat Begich in November.

If, as expected now, Miller and other Alaska Tea Partiers go all-out against Begich as part of a winning campaign, don't be surprised if they spend the next six years reminding Sullivan that he couldn't have won without them. That's called political maturity.

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Author:

Mark Tapscott

Executive Editor
The Washington Examiner

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