WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell's vote to clear the way for Congress to lift the federal debt ceiling has angered the tea party wing of the GOP and made his re-election bid a lot harder.
McConnell's allies are blaming Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who forced the vote Wednesday by threatening a filibuster.
"Ted Cruz did not join the Senate to be part of the Republican team," said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who was an aide to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. "And he certainly isn't finding any new pals for this one."
The intraparty tug of war is playing out in six Republican Senate primary campaigns.
McConnell's opponent in Kentucky's May 20 Republican primary, Louisville businessman Matt Bevin, immediately criticized the five-term senator for helping advance the debt-limit increase.
"I wish I could say I am surprised that Mitch McConnell voted to hand President Obama another blank check," Bevin said in a statement. "Sadly, I am not, because this is more of the same from a career politician who has voted for bigger government, multiple bailouts, and now 11 debt-ceiling increases."
Groups aligned with Bevin took aim at McConnell on websites and social media.
An Internet ad accused McConnell of voting "like a Democrat" on fiscal issues and pictured him along with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) The ad was sponsored by the Senate Conservatives Fund, a political action committee founded by former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) that has helped elect tea party-backed senators.