Bid To Topple Mississippi Senator Tests Tea Party's Muscle

It is not shaping up as a great year for the conservative Tea Party movement as it seeks to revamp the Republican Party by challenging "establishment" Republicans in the U.S. Senate.

The Tea Party's assault on Senator John Cornyn fell short in the Texas primaries last month, and recent polls indicate that the movement's candidates are unlikely to oust incumbents in Kentucky, Tennessee and Kansas.

But the Tea Party's outlook is considerably better in Mississippi. The stars appear to have aligned for Chris McDaniel, a state senator who is waging a primary battle against Thad Cochran, who is seeking his seventh six-year term in the Senate.

Polls show a close race two months before the June 3 Republican primary, and an army of Tea Party activists are canvassing Mississippi voters for McDaniel. Money has flooded in, with national Tea Party-affiliated groups such as Club for Growth spending close to $1 million to support him.

For the Tea Party, the stakes in McDaniel's race are huge. If it can unseat a popular incumbent like Cochran, it can claim relevance within the Republican Party even though setbacks elsewhere indicate the movement that burst into American politics in 2010 is losing some momentum amid a backlash from the more moderate Republican establishment.

Republican strategist Ford O'Connell says McDaniel's primary challenge will have ramifications for the Tea Party well beyond Mississippi, especially when it comes to fundraising.

"These conservative groups need Thad Cochran's head on their mantle if they want to remain credible with donors," O'Connell said. "And the Tea Party movement badly needs a shot in the arm to fire them up for the election."

Read more from Nick Carey at Reuters

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