The Tea Party movement has scalped establishment candidates from Alaska to Delaware. In New Hampshire on Tuesday, it faltered. After an extended vote count, establishment Republican Kelly Ayotte was declared the winner over her allegedly Tea Party-backed challenger, conservative lawyer Ovide LaMontagne, in the state’s Senate primary. What happened?
According to some pundits, nothing. Author Doug Schoen told National Review Online yesterday, “The election results demonstrate fundamentally and clearly that the tea-party movement is as powerful as the Republican Party – the Grand Old Party – and the now-weakened Democratic party. The results in Delaware, New Hampshire, and New York prove it as clearly as anything could.”
No, they don’t. The Tea Party movement is a powerful and positive force that is reshaping, at least for now, the Republican Party. But despite its victories in Delaware and New York, it failed in New Hampshire on Tuesday night.
In contrast with Delaware, where an establishment Republican faced a bona fide Tea Party insurgent, New Hampshire’s Republican U.S. Senate primary featured an anointed successor to retiring Sen. Judd Gregg (Ayotte), a conservative insurgent (LaMontagne) and two pro-choice, millionaire businessmen running to fix the economy (Jim Bender and Bill Binnie). Test question: Who was the Tea Party candidate?
Neither Bender nor Binnie became a Tea Party-backed candidate, even though both were political newcomers espousing fiscally conservative, pro-growth messages. LaMontagne, the 1996 gubernatorial nominee, was your standard Reaganite challenger who attracted the support of social conservatives and others seeking a proven conservative they could trust. But he was no Tea Party rabble rouser.
Which candidate got the Tea Party’s backing? Well, Sarah Palin endorsed Ayotte, the establishment candidate. Does that count? Only if Palin speaks for the entire Tea Party movement (which she does not) and endorsing the establishment’s hand-picked candidate amounts to leading a Tea Party insurgency (which it does not). Sen. Jim DeMint endorsed LaMontagne, but one endorsement does not a Tea Party insurgency make. The truth is, this was not a race shaped by the Tea Party, except in one possible way.
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