“What ends up happening is a lot of observers, even those who are not totally clueless about politics ... are probably subsuming Akin and maybe some other conservative examples under the tea party banner, even though there’s not a direct link,” says political scientist Brian Calfano at Missouri State University in Springfield.
Republicans need to take four seats from Democrats to win control of the Senate, and twice as many Democratic seats are up for grabs this year as Republican seats.
Tea party defenders, for their part, say the Senate outcome can't be pinned on just one or two races. And they are looking around the country and noting establishment candidates locked in tight Senate races on Republican turf in North Dakota and Montana. If the GOP loses those seats, they ask, whose fault is that? They look, too, at candidates lauded by the Republican establishment who never gained traction, like former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico, and ask, What happened there?
Democrats, moreover, have mustered strong candidates for races like Indiana.
Considering those factors, the argument that conservatives cost the party a Senate majority in 2012 “is a very selective narrative,” says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a fiscally conservative group that helped prevent Sen. Bob Bennett (R) of Utah from winning the party nomination in 2010.
But some party regulars continue to see problems stemming from the influence of the far right on the nominating process.