Three Senate candidates will test whether the Tea Party is a fad or a force for the future
The Republican Party’s lurch to the right in the past few years is undeniable. The 2006 and 2008 elections cost the GOP’s few remaining moderate House members their seats, and now the party is set to field scores of brash conservative candidates in this fall’s midterms.
Three of this year’s Senate contests are poised to test the durability of this rightward movement, with the fates of Marco Rubio in Florida, Rand Paul in Kentucky and (assuming she wins Tuesday’s GOP primary) Sharron Angle in Nevada set to provide a clear indicator of whether going hard right is a viable electoral strategy.
This trio has two things in common. First, they’re all Tea Party favorites who have toppled (or are poised to topple, in Angle’s case) GOP establishment favorites. And second, because of their arch-conservatism, they are — at least on paper — less electable than the more mainline Republicans they vanquished.
Given the climate of 2010, Republicans were staring at near-certain victories in Florida, Kentucky and Nevada. But with Rubio, Paul and Angle, these states will essentially be toss-ups.
Nominating them amounts to a high-risk electoral strategy.
Of the three, Florida may be the most important to the Republicans in the long term. Starting from more than 30 points behind Charlie Crist in GOP primary polling, Rubio was able to ride a wave of dissatisfaction among Florida Republicans, who viewed Crist as too moderate. Rubio’s stunning rise led to Crist’s excommunication from the party and his decision to run for the seat as an independent. Unlike Paul or Angle, Rubio is a highly disciplined candidate with a telegenic presence. Should he prevail, he might be an attractive option for the GOP at the national level in 2012 or 2016 — especially if the party needs help reconnecting with disaffected Latino voters.
But first he must beat Crist in November. Rubio remains favored, but is not the general election shoo-in that Crist would have been under the Republican banner. Crist and the Democratic nominee, Kendrick Meek, are currently splitting the Democratic vote, thus boosting Rubio. But if Meek were to drop out in the fall, Democrats would presumably rally behind Crist, putting Rubio in severe danger.
Republican prospects are also uncertain in Kentucky. Since his overwhelming victory in his May 18 primary, Paul has been at the center of a media firestorm after he seemed to indicate — at least initially — objections to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act. While this could be considered the kind of political burp you’d expect from an unseasoned nominee, Paul’s quirky libertarian ideology and lack of restraint suggest greater problems down the road for Republicans in a red state they should have no trouble winning this year. The most recent polling has Paul slightly ahead of his Democratic foe, state Attorney General Jack Conway.
If Paul represents the Republicans’ most interesting nominee this cycle, then Angle may be the GOP’s riskiest (potential) selection. Like Paul, Angle is far right, but her views are more established, since she’s been in the political arena longer. She served for six years in the Nevada state Assembly and has waged losing bids for the state Senate and Congress. She supports the privatization of Social Security, believes the Department of Education should be shuttered, and has called for the end of the federal income tax.
If Angle wins on Tuesday (and the latest polling has her pulling away), it will be problematic for Republicans, who have made ousting Majority Leader Harry Reid one of their top priorities this year. Reid, a four-term Democrat, has been a heavy underdog for months against other GOP candidates, but versus Angle the race would suddenly be a toss-up. Given Nevada’s centrist nature, Reid’s deep war chest, and Angle’s polarizing conservatism and past electoral mediocrity, the GOP may fritter away a crucial seat with her as their candidate.
Taken together, Republicans are today staring at tough fights in three states they should have wrapped up early on. The GOP remains slightly favored to win these contests, but they could all be quite tight come November.
Consequently, the three states’ races will collectively test the strength of the GOP’s rightward lurch. If Tea Party-endorsed candidates like Rubio, Paul and Angle cannot win in non-blue states in an unquestionably Republican year, it will starkly demonstrate the limitations of the Republican Party’s post-2006 metamorphosis. If all three go down to defeat, the Republican Party will be due for some serious self-appraisal.
Mark Greenbaum is a freelance writer in Washington. More Mark Greenbaum.
More Related Stories
- Here come the tornado truthers. Already
- Peace Corps to allow gay couples to volunteer together
- Moore officials: Funds for "safe rooms" were held up by red tape
- Rand Paul: Congress should apologize to Apple, not the other way around
- Rescue crews race to find tornado survivors
- Looting in Oklahoma?
- Hundreds of low-wage federally contracted workers strike in D.C.
- Okla. mother's tearful reunion with her 8-year-old son
- New campaign compares gun control to anti-LGBT discrimination
- Study: Salt Lake City is gay parenting capital of the U.S.
- Inhofe and Coburn: Red state hypocrites
- Teen activist to meet with Abercrombie CEO
- Watch: Family emerges from storm shelter after tornado
- Must-see morning clip: Barackalypse Now
- Okla. tornado survivor reunited with dog trapped in rubble live on camera
- Is Pope Francis an exorcist?
- Oklahoma death count confirmed at 24, 9 children
- Frantic parents search for children in tornado's wake
- Crews dig through rubble after deadly tornado
- 51 killed in massive Oklahoma tornado
- Don't cry climate-change wolf
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11