Add too much tea to the party, and you get Lindsey Graham soundly defeating six challengers in the Republican primary.

Add just the right amount - even if it's from an unknown brand - and the tea party in Virginia throws out Eric Cantor, the second-most powerful man in the House of Representatives.

Political quarterbacks awoke around the South on Wednesday trying to figure out if the tea party movement was truly on the wane or just on hiatus.

What they got was a mix of both.

Recent Senate primary wins by the GOP establishment in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina - along with Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's win in Kentucky - gave them hope that the tea party threat of recent years had largely played itself out.

But the lingering runoff in Mississippi's U.S. Senate race, where Sen. Thad Cochran is in trouble versus state Sen. Chris McDaniel, and Cantor's stunning defeat at the hands of tea party candidate Dave Brat on Tuesday, leave evidence that Republicans still remain fractured in their candidate and election aims, from state to state and district to district.

Immigration, budget deals and aid for Wall Street still loom as large among some voters as they did in the last election cycle.

"It just speaks to the larger, internal conflict on the part of Republicans," said political scientist Geoff Skelley of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "And in some cases it's costing incumbents their jobs."

Still yet another factor to register in these Southern state races, Skelley said, is how large the challenger fields are.

Multi-candidate races, such as what South Carolina just went though with Graham easily defeating six little-known challengers, play to the incumbent, he said, while Cantor's one-on-one race spelled his doom.

Cantor, Skelley said, was in a unique position among all of the candidates this year, which added to his vulnerability. As the House majority leader, he was trying to manage Republican congressional goals nationally, while at the same time he had to stay attuned to his 734,000 constituents in Virginia's 7th District, which mostly stretches north and west from Richmond.

"He was really trying to be everything to everyone," Skelley said. "Moderate, conservative, a friend of the Speaker, an opponent of the Speaker."

And that cost him.

For his part, Graham stayed consistent on the trail and never went negative against those who wanted to take his job, even as the tea party rhetoric carried by his challengers tried to portray him as sometimes being too close to Washington Democrats.

On Wednesday, during a media availability that included Gov. Nikki Haley and U.S. Tim Scott at the Governor's Mansion in Columbia, Graham addressed the tea party's concerns post-election, saying Democrats should be the target, not what he called the small differences among conservatives.

"So the tea party, Americans, tea party South Carolinians, you're right to be frustrated," Graham said. "You've got every right to be frustrated. I ask one thing of you: let's put the country ahead of the party. What good is the Tea Party, the Republican Party, the Democratic Party if they cannot save America at a time she needs to be saved."

Scott also spoke in glowing terms for the goals of those aligned as tea partiers.

"The real key to what we see today ... is that there is a debate going on," Scott said. "I think debates are helping. When you look at the concept of the Republican Party, one of the ways that we grow who we are and who identifies themselves with the conservative movement is not to figure out what faction you are within the Republican construct, but to think about the ideas that are being presented within the Republican conversation."

The other takeaway in South Carolina, as far as the tea party goes, is that the movement may have hit a glass ceiling here. Graham and Scott are heavy favorites to win re-election to six-year terms in November, potentially making them safe for years to come.

Still, Graham did show post-victory signs Wednesday of endorsing the sort of immigration reform that tea parties had opposed and which had cost other Republicans, namely Cantor, who had been seen as an immigration compromiser.

"For God's sake, let's fix immigration before it destroys our economy, our culture, and leads to another 9/11 type of attack," Graham said. "So the need to fix immigration is getting greater. And I am confident that South Carolina Republicans and national Republicans would accept a rational solution if they believed it would fix the problem."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.