By Michael C. Bender and Kathleen Hunter
WASHINGTON — A battle for control of the Republican Party has erupted as an emboldened tea party moved to oust senators who voted to reopen the government while business groups mobilized to defeat allies of the small-government movement.
"We are going to get engaged," said Scott Reed, senior political strategist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "The need is now more than ever to elect people who understand the free market and not silliness." The chamber spent $35.7 million on federal elections in 2012, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a Washington-based group that tracks campaign spending.
Meanwhile, two Washington-based groups that finance tea party-backed candidates said Thursday they're supporting efforts to defeat Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, who voted this week for the measure ending the 16-day shutdown and avoiding a government debt default. Cochran, a Republican seeking a seventh term next year, faces a challenge in his party's primary from Chris McDaniel, a state senator.
McDaniel, who announced his candidacy Thursday, "is not part of the Washington establishment and he has the courage to stand up to the big spenders in both parties," Matt Hoskins, executive director of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said in a statement supporting him.
Cochran is at least the seventh Republican senator to face a primary in the 2014 midterms. The intra-party contests come as Republicans seek a net pickup of six seats to regain control of the 100-member chamber that they lost in the 2006 elections. Party leaders are also working to protect their majority in the House, where they have 232 members to the Democrats' 200.
Those goals became more difficult after the tea party- aligned House and Senate Republicans embraced a plan tying government spending to defunding Obamacare. President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats rejected the proposal and had the power to stop it, and their partisan adversaries took the lion's share of the blame for the impasse leading to the government shutdown that began Oct. 1.