Senate Races: A Scorecard for the Tea Party
With the right in America all riled up over government spending and President Obama's massive socialist power grab, Tea-Party activism and ideology has given us a handful of bona fide political candidates who are now running in major statewide races. So how are they doing? Will they win election, or sink the Republican Party by pushing it out of the mainstream and failing to win their high-profile races?
Below, find a scorecard for the Tea Party and the newly energized sector of fiscal conservatives more broadly--a check-up on the nation's top Tea Party races.
Rand Paul, Kentucky: The younger Paul has let the kerfuffle over his Civil Rights Act skepticism largely blow over, and after pulling off a big victory in his primary against Lt. Gov Trey Grayson, Paul leads his race against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway. He also may or may not be dangerously broke: in late April, in the heat of his primary, Paul had only $169,000 in the bank, compared to Conway's $1.9 million. Kentucky favors Republicans, but Democrats have turned an optimistic eye toward the Bluegrass State in recent years, electing Gov. Steve Beshear in the triumphant 2008 election cycle. Paul cleared the big hurdle in winning his primary; his general election figures to be close. Pollster.com average: Paul 47.5%, Conway 43.0%. Cook Political Report rating: Toss up.
Sharron Angle, Nevada: Angle rose to swift prominence after an endorsement from Tea Party Express, climbing from 5% poll numbers in her multi-way primary to become a formidable candidate in a matter of weeks. She trounced state-party establishment type Sue Lowden in the primary, and now she leads Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Democrats have salivated over her unorthodox views (e.g. eliminating the Department of Eduction, phasing out social security, rolling back offshore drilling regulations, and dumping nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain), but her campaign has gotten a lot slicker since the primary, as her newly revamped website shows. Like Paul, she trails badly in cash: in May, at the end of her primary, Angle's campaign owed about $38,000 more than it had in the bank (only $132,000), while Reid has over $9 million at his disposal. And he's already using it, both on positive and negative statewide TV ad campaigns. Reid has been vulnerable for some time, and the polling shows her up by a substantial margin (Rasmussen routinely gives her a bigger lead than Mason-Dixon, the other major firm polling in this race). Pollster.com average: Angle 47.5%, Reid 40.9%. Cook Political Report rating: Toss up.
Chuck DeVore and Steve Poizner, California: DeVore and Poizner, candidates in the Senate and gubernatorial races, respectively, were the top Tea Party hopes in California. Both were fiscal conservatives running against more moderate primary candidates. They both lost, however, to a pair of former CEOs with superior spending capabilities, as former HP CEO Carly Fiorina defeated DeVore 57% to 19% and former eBay CEO Meg Whitman beat Poizner 64% to 27% in their June primaries.
Mike Lee, Utah: The big story in Utah was the defeat of three-term Sen. Bob Bennett at the Utah state Republican convention in May, despite his incumbency and despite the aid of Mitt Romney, who spoke at the convention and tried to drum up support for the senator. But Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater ousted him in the vote among caucus-elected delegates, both with strong backing from Tea Partiers in the state, and Lee won the run-off primary in June. Lee has the backing of two important national groups, the Dick-Armey-led FreedomWorks and DC-based the free-market conservative Club for Growth. As the Republican nominee in a very red state, he's the overwhelming favorite to defeat Democrat Sam Granato in the fall--so much so that no one is really polling on the race. He's almost a lock to be one of the first bona fide Tea Party candidates to enter the U.S. Senate in January. Cook Political Report rating: Solid Republican.
J.D. Hayworth, Arizona: Make no mistake: John McCain is not a favorite of conservatives, many of whom now give sheepish explanations of how they voted for, donated to, or phone-banked in support of him in the 2008 election cycle. It's emblematic of how the conservative movement has taken off since 2008, and J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman and Arizona radio personality, is challenging him in an August 24 primary, hitting McCain on his TARP vote and accusing him of supporting big government. If Hayworth wins the primary, he'll have a clear path to the Senate, but it looks like McCain will hang on, as Hayworth trails significantly. Pollster.com average: McCain 50.3%, Hayworth 32.8%. Cook Political Report rating: Solid Republican
Joe Miller, Alaska: Miller is a relatively new entrant into the canon of Tea Party candidates, as he earned an endorsement from Sarah Palin a week ago in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Lisa Murkowski. And while that alone may not make or break him, he's also received the backing of Tea Party Express, which hasn't begun to spend money in Alaska yet, but which plans to. There's not much polling in the race, but Miller is still an underdog, even if Tea Party Express dumps hundreds of thousands of dollars into the race before Alaska's August 24 primary date, as it did in Nevada with Sharron Angle. Like Hayworth, Miller will have a good shot at the Senate if he defeats Murkowski. Cook Political Report rating: Solid Republican.