Does Kirk's victory mean tea party is a paper tiger? Hardly 

It's not often that you find a story-line that serves both liberals and the national Republican Party, but here it is:

Moderate Mark Kirk has won Illinois’ Republican Senate primary, blowing away two conservative opponents backed by tea-party contingents. The congressman has 56% of the vote with more than 82% of precincts reporting—giving him a 37% edge over Patrick Hughes. Analysts predicted that a clear Kirk victory would take much of the steam out of the tea-party movement.

This is pretty weak. The analyst discussing yesterday's Illinois Senate primary is a TPM writer who was spun by one of the most talented flaks in Washington, Brian Walsh of the National Republican Senatorial Committee:

Moderate GOP candidates across the country are closely watching today's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where a centrist Rep. Mark Kirk is poised to beat out two conservatives who have the backing of the tea party movement. And if Kirk pulls it out tonight as he's expected to, a sigh of relief will be heard from Lynchburg, Va. to Seattle.

The meme since the NY-23 kerfuffle has been that Republicans will face contested primaries in dozens of their races, and an emboldened tea party movement will give establishment candidates the boot and potentially hand easy wins to the Democrats..."This blows a hole in that whole narrative," said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.

In fact, Kirk was the heavy frontrunner all along against a very disorganized and divided opposition that had little time to get its act together ahead of Illinois's very early primary. The party establishment's more conservative figures were all talked out of the race and went to the gubernatorial primary instead.

Importantly, it remains unclear that Kirk or any other Republican can win Barack Obama's old Senate seat later this year. That stands in contrast to Florida, where Democrats have failed to produce a top-shelf candidate for Senate. The lack of a "fear factor" for losing the seat has made it much easier for tea-partiers who love Marco Rubio to get some establishment support, and to put a dent in the NRSC's favorite recruit, moderate Gov. Charlie Crist.

The real story is not in Illinois. It is in Pennsylvania, where former Rep. Pat Toomey, R, showed sufficient strength to keep others out of the primary (including former Gov. Tom Ridge and Rep. Jim Gerlach). It is in Kentucky, New Hampshire and Florida, where the establishment's prized recruits are suddenly in real and unexpected primary fights, and where their insurgent challengers could reasonably win in November. In Florida and Kentucky, the insurgent candidates are now the frontrunners. Voters have yet to reach the tipping point in New Hampshire. 

About The Author

David Freddoso

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David Freddoso came to the Washington Examiner in June 2009, after serving for nearly two years as a Capitol Hill-based staff reporter for National Review Online. Before writing his New York Times bestselling book, The Case Against Barack Obama, he spent three years assisting Robert Novak, the legendary Washington... more
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