It spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Alabama's primary elections and lost key challenges to Republican incumbents.
Still, the Alabama Education Association isn’t ready to declare defeat.
"Don't believe what you see in the media," Amy Marlowe, a spokeswoman for the AEA, said on Wednesday. "We actually had a very successful night."
Key leaders of Alabama's Republican legislative supermajority swept to victory in Tuesday's primary elections, despite challenges from opponents who claimed the tea party mantle and campaigned largely on opposition to Common Core, the multi-state K-12 academic standards the state adopted years ago.
Senate president pro tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, bested opponent Steven Guede by a 20-point margin. House Speaker Mike Hubbard, R-Auburn, defeated challenger Sandy Toomer by a similar spread. Voters also snubbed two out of three Common Core critics running for the state's school board, keeping Core opponents in the minority on the board.
By most accounts, it was a clear defeat for the anti-Common Core movement, a grassroots effort composed mostly of social conservatives who argue that the Common Core standards constitute a federal overreach into state schools. It was also a setback for the Alabama Foundation for Limited Government, a nonprofit that dropped $700,000 into a PAC to fund anti-Core candidates. Founder John Rice hasn't revealed where the foundation got the money, claiming that a nonprofit doesn't have to reveal its donors — a claim Marsh and other Republican incumbents disputed.
The Alabama Education Association, the state's largest professional group for teachers, has denied any involvement with the Foundation for Limited Government, though the two groups lined up behind many of the same candidates. AEA spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising for Guede, Toomer, and other GOP challengers who led with Common Core — and lost on Tuesday.
Still, the AEA's Marlowe sees the primary as an overall win for the group.
"We picked up six seats in the House last night," Marlowe said.
It wasn’t immediately clear which races Marlowe referred to. Four members of the House lost their primaries on Tuesday, with a fifth race still too close to call. There wasn’t clear AEA involvement in all those races but the group did support some incumbents, mostly Democrats.
Marlowe said the group’s strategy was to pick up a few more AEA-loyal seats, making up for the ground the organization lost in 2010.
"We were sitting back and counting seats," Marlowe said.
It's not implausible for both sides — the Republican leadership and the AEA — to claim some measure of victory in Tuesday's results, said Glen Browder, a professor emeritus of political science at Jacksonville State University.
"There's room for both sides to brag," he said. "And of course, both sides will spin it."
Browder said the gain in seats for AEA shows that the group — which has historically been more aligned with Democrats — can gain influence with Republicans.
"They did gain in a field where they'd never played before," Browder said. Meanwhile, Republican leaders can claim victory in withstanding the AEA onslaught.
"What the Republicans will brag about is that they withstood an attack of the, quote, 'liberals,’'' Browder said.
Identifying "liberal" or "moderate" Republicans can be a tough task in Alabama, a state with a penchant for one-party politics that often confounds traditional left-and-right labels. Browder said the GOP is now divided into social-conservative and business-oriented wings.
"It's the church crowd and the chamber crowd," he said.
Unlike the AEA, the party's social conservatives have few gains to point to in Tuesday's elections. Eunie Smith, a Common Core critic and Alabama leader of the conservative group Eagle Forum, said the campaign did turn the state's political rhetoric in an anti-Core direction.
"Practically all the candidates ran against national control of education," Smith said. "None of the proponents ran on Common Core, and all of the opponents ran as anti-Common Core candidates."
Smith said a groundswell of opinion against Common Core would keep pressure on elected officials.
"Not so much at the polling place, but surveys show that people in Alabama don't like Common Core," she said.
Smith said Common Core candidates were defeated in part by opponents who simply had more money.
“This civil war, like the real Civil War, was decided by resources,” he said.
Challengers in key GOP races attracted attention — and criticism — with big checks from the Foundation for Limited Government’s Stop Common Core PAC and by massive in-kind contributions from AEA. But many anti-Core candidates had only those contributions, plus handfuls of donations from friends numbering in the hundreds of dollars.
Incumbents, meanwhile, could draw on a network of business donors and PACs. In the Senate District 12 race, Marsh entered the last week of campaigning with $15,920, after getting $51,050 in donations the week before, and spending much of it. Guede entered the last week with $4,329.
Attempts to reach Guede, McGriff and other anti-Core candidates for comment Wednesday were unsuccessful. So were attempts to reach Foundation for Limited Government director John Rice and former state Sen. Scott Beason of Gardendale. Beason led the fight against Common Core in the Legislature earlier this year, and lost a bid for the Republican nomination to the 6th District Congressional seat Tuesday.
They'll be backing Republican leaders by autumn, Browder predicted.
"The Republicans will coalesce by November," he said, "and this civil war will become a footnote."