Perhaps setting the tone for the 2012 election coverage, the New York Times leaned "staunchly" on "deep-seated" conservative labels in Sunday's front-page off-lead by Jennifer Steinhauer (pictured) and Jonathan Weisman: "Tea Party Focus Turns to Senate And Shake-Up-- Pursuing a House-Style Conservative Fervor ." After months of hinting that the Tea Party was losing influence, the toppling of veteran Republican moderate Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana has convinced the Times that the group now poses a danger to moderates and deal-makers in the party.
The primary victory of a Tea Party-blessed candidate in Indiana illustrates how closely Republican hopes for a majority in the Senate are tied to candidates who pledge to infuse the chamber with the deep-seated conservatism that has been the hallmark of the House since the Republicans gained control in 2010.
Richard E. Mourdock, who last week defeated Senator Richard G. Lugar, a six-term incumbent, promises to bring an uncompromising ideology to Capitol Hill if he prevails in November. And he is not the only Senate candidate who contends that Senate Republicans are badly in need of new blood.
In Arizona, Missouri, Nebraska and Texas, Republican Senate candidates are vying for the mantle of Tea Party outsider. A number of them say that they would seek to press an agenda that is generally to the right of the minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and that they would demand a deeper policy role for the Senate’s growing circle of staunch conservatives.
Some say they have not decided whether they would support Mr. McConnell, who could find himself contending with the type of fractious rank and file that has vexed the House speaker, John A. Boehner of Ohio.
But Mr. McConnell’s room to maneuver is shrinking with the rising calls against compromise and the diminishing ranks of Republican deal makers.
In recent months, Mr. McConnell has been trying to keep the right flank at bay, voting against a bipartisan highway bill, for example, that conservative members disliked. He has also endorsed an earmark ban, in sharp contrast to former years, when his earmarks for Kentucky were the stuff of campaign fodder.
At times, his attempts to navigate the treacherous divide between placating conservatives and not appearing obstinate fall flat. Late last year, he insisted on a vote on his own alternative to the Senate Democrats’ version of the payroll tax cut bill, to demonstrate that Republicans supported the continued cut. But Mr. DeMint and other conservatives led a rebellion, and the bill received a humiliating 20 votes. When Mr. McConnell talked his conference into approving a short-term measure instead, it blew up in the House, with conservative members there complaining that Mr. McConnell had sold them out.
Mr. McConnell, who has been the minority leader since 2007, also finds himself increasingly in the cross hairs of deeply conservative outside groups. Erick Erickson, a blogger, posted a Twitter message on Tuesday night that read: “Dear Mitch McConnell, I hope you heard the Tea Party of Indiana tonight. Heheheh. If not, you will come January.” A conservative radio host, Laura Ingraham, fired off her own Twitter missive: “Is Senate leadership effective under Leader McConnell?”