After watching tea party favorite Adam Andrzejewski finish fifth in the Illinois Republican gubernatorial primary and moderate Rep. Mark Kirk run away with the state’s GOP Senate nomination, conservatives are insisting Wednesday that there is nothing to read into Tuesday’s results.
Scott Brown’s win in the Massachusetts Senate special election last month was trumpeted as a sign that the grass-roots conservative energy that built the tea party movement had arrived as an electoral force in American politics, even in blue states.
But it was business as usual Tuesday night in Illinois, with the tea party candidate winning only 14.5 percent in a GOP primary topped by party insiders and Kirk dominating his more conservative competition.
Conservatives dismissed Kirk’s win as inevitable, despite his challenges from the right by the tea-party-backed Patrick Hughes.
“I think most conservatives realized that Kirk would win that primary a while back and are not terribly enthused about it,” said influential conservative blogger Ed Morrissey of the right-leaning site Hot Air. “They'll still argue for Kirk over [Democratic nominee Alexi] Giannoulias.”
Bill Wilson, a longtime conservative operative and the president of Americans for Limited Government, told POLITICO that “Mark Kirk has a strong base of support and the opposition was, for him, more of a warning that he could not track too far to the left.”
Wilson cautioned that Massachusetts may have set expectations too high for conservatives heading into primary season for this fall’s elections.
“Massachusetts has professional observers looking for come-from-behind knockout punches everywhere, every time,” he said. “It has never happened that way. Everything is on the margins, and from what I see the margins are still shifting toward the free-market, anti-Obama direction.”
Still, some on the right were not able to hold back their distaste for Kirk after his win.
Right-wing firebrand Michelle Malkin, for one, accused Kirk of “pandering to enviro-nitwits” and being soft on a host of conservative issues in a blog post summing up the congressman’s win as “lame.”
Andrzejewski’s loss had to hurt more for conservative activists, as he was beginning to become something of a darling to the right.
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh endorsed Andrzejewski, and prominent right-leaning media had been touting Andrzejewski as its chosen candidate in the days leading up to the primary.
But in the wake of Andrzejewski’s defeat, many of the voices who were championing him the day before — including RedState founder Erick Erickson — were silent on his loss.
Andrzejewski said he was not too surprised that, even with the support of the tea parties, he fell short.
“We always knew that the Illinois Republican primary voter was an establishment voter, so we knew it was going to be a difficult task,” he told POLITICO.
Andrzejewski claimed that he had a “very motivated” base that came out heavily for
him but that there just weren’t enough of his supporters to make the math work.
“In two weeks we went from 7 percent to 15 percent, and that’s evidence of a motivated base and a lot of national media attention,” he said. “I finished within 5 points of all these established political names, and we’re leaving the race with our heads held high.”
“The tea party voters did turn out,” he added, “and I take a lot of credit for bringing new people into this Republican primary.”