So the Tea Party scored a major scalp last night when Rand Paul tore through Trey Grayson, and by extension Mitch McConnell. So it got me thinking, where is the tea party in Virginia. Now I know one exists and they are out there making their voices heard, but not like they have in Utah and Kentucky or are looking to do in Colorado and Nevada. After all, we have three highly contested congressional primaries in the state and we have seen nothing like what is going on in other parts of the country.
Arkansas and Kentucky provide us with two major lessons about the tea party and its effectiveness in GOP primaries. In the Kentucky Model, it was simply Paul versus Grayson with nobody else to siphon off votes. And much of the tea party economic outrage blends in perfectly with Paul's views. But if you look at Arkansas, where the Republican primary consisted of three major candidates and several smaller ones, Rep. John Boozman was able to fight off both Jim Holt and Gilbert Baker (along with five other candidates), who were vying for that tea party vote. Boozman is a conservative politician but voted for TARP, which opened him up to criticism. The way Boozman handled it was to stay positive and not cede the ground.
In the 2nd district, Scott Rigell has long been the favorite to win the nomination and despite revelations that he gave money to Barack Obama and insinuations about his dealerships and cash for clunkers, he still maintains his favorite status. My personal thinking is that none of Rigell's primary opponents have been able to convince conservatives that Rigell isn't a good candidate. There is also a lot of candidates in the 2nd, so there is no one person the movement can coalesce around. The 2nd seems to be following the Arkansas model, where Rigell has stood tall to the attacks and they don't seem to be hurting. A big boost came from Bob McDonnell's endorsement, who is as hot a politician out there. And if Bob isn't loved anywhere else, he will always be loved in Virginia Beach and in the 2nd district.
In the 5th, you would think the terrian would be ripe for a tea party takeover. Southside has always been Virginia's most conservative region, and though State Sen. Robert Hurt has been a successful politician in the area, he is far from as conservative as Virgil Goode. But in his races for delegate and state senate, Hurt has built a constituency. However, like in Kentucky, winning state races clearly means nothing. But like Rigell, Hurt seems to have maintained his lead based on the conservative vote being split among multiple candidates.
In the 11th, who knows? This has the most chance to being like Kentucky, where you have two candidates who clearly represent the establishment, Pat Herrity; and the grassroots in Keith Fimian. And while some might have doubted Fimian, the endorsement from AG Cuccinelli no doubt bolstered his appeal. But the problem with the 11th is that its chalk full of government employees and contractors, so will the tea party message resonate? If its kept to simply overspending and economic issues of limited government, it can work. I actually have no feel on this race, despite my Fimian advocacy. I can see it going either way, there just has not been a lot of polling out there.
So what is going on in Virginia? The Tea Party is clearly active, but why aren't they making more of a dent in these contested congressional races? They were a major force behind Ken Cuccinelli's election last November, as a part of McDonnell and Bolling as well. I think the biggest reason is that Republicans in Virginia are a pretty conservative lot. None of the front-runners that are deemed moderates - Herrity, Hurt, or Rigell - are moderates in the national sense. I mean if Robert Hurt is a moderate in our party, we are a pretty conservative party.
But perhaps more importantly the Tea Party isn't some advocacy group organized politically to give endorsements like the VFW or League of Women Voters. Its an amorphous group of angry citizens worried about the spending and deficits of the country. And despite what the media and Democrats want us to believe, this is not a partisan group per say. These people aren't seasoned activists, nor are they naturally partisans. The anger they have is not political in our established party systems. Republicans need to really wake up to this reality, that this is not a group that can be used that easily. We have seen in some of these congressional races in Virginia that talking too the tea parties doesn't mean coming from the tea party. Rand Paul was considered one of them in a way that someone like Laurence Verga just isn't. This is not a group easily defined or easily won over. Their activism is so focused and in a way so pure, its hard for politicians to crack that. Rand Paul won them over in the same way Ken Cuccinelli did . . . he just connected because he was honest and uncompromising.
I think the strength of the Tea Party right now exceeds that of the Republican Party, and perhaps the GOP should temper down their expectations because this is a volatile group that will not be won over just because GOP candidates throw out Obama's name. These folks are truly principled and are looking for the real deal, but more than anything they are looking for authenticity. I'm betting most tea partiers are willing to accept a Mark Kirk, who won fair and square, over some of these guys pretending to be what they are not. I believe the GOP brand is still tainted badly, and this talk of winning 100 seats is pretty wild. I'm not saying it can't happen, I'm just saying we need to be better at reading the tea leaves, so to speak.
The lesson here isn't just about getting more conservatives elected, I think its about getting honest men elected. Like I said about Mark Kirk, he won fair and square and is pretty honest about who they are. And its all about the economy and spending. Jobs, the deficit, these are the issues that have the Tea Party so angry. Government take over of our lives through health care and energy taxes. A united and principled front on these issues will win elections for Republicans. Embrace the Tea Party message and be genuine.
And we need to recruit new and young candidates. A fresh generation of conservatives not tied to the Bush or Clinton years. You see candidates like Rand Paul, Ken Buck, Sharron Angle, Marco Rubio, and Mike Lee that are new and exciting. Some have state level experience seeing what the federal largesse has done to states and its citizens. They are new with no connection to the past sixteen years of misdirection both parties have clearly led us on. But there is no direct paradigm we can use as a be-all-end-all to measure how the tea party will affect local races and even Senate races. But its clear they are giving us the ideological road map to victory. New candidates with a fresh outlook and a conservative ideology based on economics, deficits, and fighting government intrusion in our lives. That would be a start.
But the Tea Party is not like anything we have seen before, and Republicans better not treat them like they are getting an NRA endorsement. Its not going to work like getting support from the NRA or some other organization because that is not what it is. There is no power structure, there is no board to win over. These people are looking for authenticity, the real thing. And they have a tremendous radar for knowing what is and what is not.