WASHINGTON -- Mark the first round down, shakily, for Republican incumbents and favorites of the party establishment.
With one race in Ohio yet to be settled, tea party-backed challengers and other outsiders were shut out in competitive House and Senate primaries across three states on Tuesday, the busiest night so far in an election season of optimism for Republicans.
While some of Tuesday night's Republican primary winners struggled to prevail, the results renewed a debate about the clout of the challengers in the remaining primaries and in elections this fall.
Six months before the midterm elections, and with the country trying to shake off the effects of a deep recession, polls show a disaffected electorate, angry at incumbents and highly skeptical of government's ability to solve their problems.
As a result, even Democrats concede that Republicans are in line to make gains this fall, when 36 seats in the Senate and all 435 in the House are on the ballot.
"The big question is whether the tea party is a tempest in a teapot. Do they have the organizational capabilities to compete with the Republicans?" said John Feehery, who advised former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and is a Republican strategist.
"They're not organized, and it's unclear to me whether they are going to be a force that is going to challenge the more establishment Republicans in primaries," he added.