Senate Tea Party Beats Establishment: #CrushRove

I don’t think we should mind internal discussions or even fights when finding Republican standard-bearers on any level, as long as we all come together afterwards.  Karl Rove recently created an American Crossroads subgroup to support more electable candidates, implicitly suggesting that Tea Party candidates like Akin and Mourdock (it’s always those two, isn’t it?) were doomed from the start.  After the Tea Party uproar, Rove has been appearing on Fox saying he gave personal money to Rubio, $x million to such and such, millions to this other one, and so on.

Rove may be able to personally say whatever, but he has become the face and voice of the establishment.  And it’s difficult and time-consuming for a generic interested member of the public like myself to follow the money.  Who is giving money to Rove?  Who have THEY personally given to in the past?  Rove has said he didn’t have an interest in the Texas Senate primary because “it didn’t matter who won” (which is dead wrong, by the way), but I’ve heard that a bunch of Crossroads donors supported Dewhurst over Cruz.   Let’s take a look at a wider list of Senate races in 2010 and 2012 and see if we can put things in context.  This is going to be a long post – but at least it’ll get this information out of my head and onto paper.

** 2010 was the first year of tea party challenges, and the standard GOP candidates were not prepared for what was to follow.

  • Alaska: Joe Miller beat Lisa Murkowski in the primary.  Karl Rove said that Murkowski was going to lose her write-in campaign, but she surprised many people by winning this three-way race.  Miller is no fan of the establishment, nor they of him, and he has recently written about Rove’s War on the Tea Party.
  • Arizona: J.D. Hayworth took the Tea Party mantle to challenge John McCain.  Rove sang about McCain’s tough stance on the border and spending in predicting his victory, and McCain won handily.
  • California: Chuck DeVore was the Tea Party favorite, but many in GOP including Sarah Palin backed Carly Fiorina.  She went on to lose to Barbara Boxer.
  • Colorado: Ken Buck surprised many by defeating GOP favorite Jane Norton.  He barely lost the general election to Michael Bennett.
  • Connecticut: Linda McMahon ran as an outsider which made her more “tea party” than Rep. Rob Simmons.  She won the primary, but lost the election.
  • Delaware: Christine O’Donnell beat out long-time Representative and establishment favorite Mike Castle.  When Castle lost the race, he would not endorse O’Donnell and Rove routinely dismissed her and her candidacy.  She went on to lose in the blue state of Delaware.
  • Florida: Another successful Tea Party challenge to an establishment candidate who would not back the GOP primary victor.  This time, though, Marco Rubio beat the Democrat and also former GOP Charlie Crist in the general election.
  • Kentucky: Rand Paul ran as an outsider much like his father, Ron Paul, and he defeated McConnell’s pick of Trey Grayson.  He then went on to win the seat pretty comfortably.
  • Missouri:  Roy Blunt was definitely the Washington insider in this race, and the Tea Party complained loudly yet could not mount any type of primary challenge.  Blunt won the primary and also the general.
  • Nevada: The Tea Party had another primary victory with Sharron Angle beating GOP chair Sue Lowden.  She later lost to Harry Ried in the general in a race that was not as close as the polls had suggested.
  • Pennsylvania: The Tea Party candidate Pat Toomey, who barely lost to Arlen Specter six years earlier, succeeded in chasing him from the GOP in 2010.  Specter lost the Democrat primary and Toomey won the general election.
  • Utah: Who can forget this solid red state with a establishment incumbent who had a questionable record.  Mike Lee beat Robert Bennet in the “primary” and coasted to a general election victory.  (Actually I forgot this in the initial post and added this state AND Wisconsin the next day.)
  • Wisconsin:  Ron Johnson is associated with the Tea Party and faced no serious opposition in the primary.  He was the brave soul who took on Democrat incumbent Russ Fiengold and won!

So in these 13 races with an establishment vs. tea party element, the tea party won ten and the establishment three.  Two of the three establishment candidates won, McCain and Blunt, while Fiorina lost in the tough state of California.  Additionally, a third establishment candidate victory came when Murkowski won her write-in campaign.

Of the ten Tea Party candidates, five won: Paul in Kentucky and Lee in Utah, and then Toomey, Rubio, and Johnson in the blue states of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.  The Democrat wins were in Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Nevada.  The fifth Tea Party candidate to lose was Joe Miller in Alaska.

Parsing this 2010 election as blue state versus red state, I count eight blue states and five red.  Of the red states, Republicans won all five with three establishment candiates (Murkowski as write-in, McCain, and Blunt) and two tea party (Rand Paul and Mike Lee).  Of the blue states, the establishment lost California, tea party candidates lost Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, and Nevada.  But, and this is important, the tea party won in the big blue states of Pennsylvania, Florida, and Wisconsin.

** 2012 showed that the GOP was more prepared in fending off challengers from the very beginning, but it was also a presidential election and many tea party folks may have been busy looking for the non-Romney and may not have adequately prepared for the Senate elections.  In choosing these races, I’ll move beyond those with solidly defined “Tea Party” challengers and also includes races that were close or competitive.

  • Arizona:  Tea Party Jeff Flake easily won a GOP primary and then squeaked by the general election.
  • Connecticut: Linda McMahon again was not exactly Tea Party, but her GOP opponent was definitely establishment.  She won the primary, but lost the general.
  • Florida: Rep. Connie Mack IV seemed to have good conservative credentials although he is also establishment in that his father is a former Senator.  He lost in the general election to incumbent Bill Nelson.
  • Indiana: Richard Mourdock was endorsed by many Tea Party-types, and Richard Lugar did not react well to losing the primary.  His supporters were enthusiatically passive about Mourdock and the Democrat ran a very conservative campaign.  This was a seat that the GOP should have held, but it was not.
  • Massachusetts: Scott Brown stunned the nation when he won the seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy.  In this election, he faced progressive favorite Elizabeth Warren in the general election and lost.  Like McMahon, he may not be Tea Party in policy but he also is not establishment.
  • Michigan: Again like Connie Mack, Pete Hoekstra is conservative and was endorsed by Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann, but he also was a long-time congressman.  In the GOP primary, challenger Clark Durant seems to have views that are very consistent with the Tea Party but he finished with under 35% of the vote.  Hoekstra lost to incumbent Debbie Stabenow.
  • Missouri:  Not to go through this again, but Todd Akin barely won a three-way contest against two superior candidates.  Claire McCaskill was the most vulnerable Democrat incumbent, but Akin was the GOP’s most vulnerable challenger.
  • Montana:  John Tester may have been the second-most vulnerable candidate, and his race was much closer.  The GOP picked Denny Rehberg who as a 20-year politician was definitely establishment.  He lost to Tester by four points while the Libertarian candidate garnered over six percent of the vote.
  • Nebraska: Deb Fischer went from third place to first place in the GOP primary.  Her opponents were Jon Bruning, considered to be establishment, and Don Stenberg.  Stenberg was endorsed by FreedomWorks, but he was also had lost two previous attempts at a Senate seat.  Fischer got an important endorsement from Sarah Palin and went on to win the primary, and then the general.
  • Nevada:  Incumbent Republican Dean Heller won the Senate outright after being appointed to the seat vacated by John Ensign.  There was no serious challenge in the primary, and he squeaked by with a 46-45 win in the general.
  • New Mexico: Five-term congresswoman Heather Wilson was challenged by a Tea Party candidate who had trouble gaining traction.  Wilson won the nomination handily, but lost the open seat.
  • North Dakota:  In an open seat that was listed as a strong Republican pickup at the beginning of 2012, Rick Berg lost the race by less than 3000 votes.  Berg was challenged in the primary by an “Americans for Prosperity” candidate.
  • Ohio:  John Mandel is a young Generation X candidate who has feet in both camps.  He was an early pick of Jim DeMint’s Victory Fund, and he also received endorsements and support from the GOP establishment.  He lost Ohio by six points.
  • Pennsylvania: Tom Smith was a Democrat for many years, but so was Ronald Reagan and so was I.  One of his GOP challengers, though, was Sam Rohrer who was endorsed by the Tea Party.  Smith ran against incumbent Bob Casey and lost.
  • Texas:  In a classic tea party vs. establishment race, Ted Cruz forced Lt. Governor David Dewhurst into a runoff when Dewhurst only received 44% of the vote in the GOP primary.  Cruz was second with 34%, but he handily won the runoff a few weeks later and then also won the general.
  • Virginia: George Allen has a long political history in Virginia, including the unfortunate “makaka” incident that cost him his Senate re-election six years earlier.  In the primary, he was challenged by a conservative activist, but Allen went on to win easily.  In the general, incumbent Tim Kaine beat Allen by six points.
  • Wisconsin:  In another classic tea party vs. establishment race, we can only wish that this one ended up in a runoff.  Instead, long-time establishment Tommy Thomson won a four-way race that included one candidate endorsed by the Club for Growth, and another candidate endorsed by FreedomWorks.  With 34% of the Republican primary vote, he went on to face Tammy Baldwin in the general election and who won the race by five.

Phew!  So a longer list, and there were a few candidates that are difficult to categorize as either tea party or establishment.  Regardless, the GOP lost a tremendous opportunity to pick up seats.  I listed here 17 of the 33 races up for contention, of which we only won four!  Of these 17, I have five who I couldn’t classify as either tea party or establishment.  I simply don’t know enough of their politics or maybe they were a little of both.  I have in this unknown category: Linda McMahon, Scott Brown, Pete Hoekstra, Todd Akin, and Tom Smith.  I have five Tea Party candidates: Jeff Flake, Richard Mourdock, Deb Fischer, Josh Mandel, and Ted Cruz.  Establishment candidates make up the remaining seven: Mack, Rehberg, Heller, Wilson, Berg, Allen, and Thompson.

So the verdict?  Well the unknowns didn’t win any seat, so that takes care of that.  Of the establishment candidates, ONLY ONE of the seven won and that was incumbent Dean Heller of Nevada.  Of the Tea Party, THREE of five won their races (Flake, Fischer, and Cruz)!  Well the Tea Party seems to be the clear victor in this categorization, even if you want to throw some of those unknowns into the tea party.

Let’s look at the blue state vs. red state results.  And as much as it hurts, I’ve got to put states like Virginia, Florida, and Ohio in the blue state category.  So of the 17 states listed, 10 are blue states and 7 are red.  Of the blue states, again only Dean Heller won.  The blue states ran five establishment candidates (Mack, Heller, Wilson, Allen, and Thompson), four unknowns (McMahon, Brown, Hoekstra, and Smith) and then tea party John Mandel.  So two years earlier, there were distinctly Tea Party candidates in the blue or swing states of Florida and Pennsylvania who won their race.  Two years later with more opportunities, there is only Josh Mandel.

The seven red states had THREE victories – and yes, the same three Tea Party folks listed above (Flake, Fischer, and Cruz)!   The remaining four red states that lost Senate bids had two establishment candidates (Rehberg and Berg), one unknown (Akin) and one Tea Party (Mourdock).  So as Mitt Romney was winning Montana and North Dakota, the GOP establishment was not successful in gaining a seat from Democrat hands.  And then there’s Akin and Mourdock… it’s always those two, isn’t it?

** So the sum total of both 2010 and 2012 elections: establishment won four of eleven races and tea party won eight of fifteen.  Tea Party by a nice margin!  Looking at blue states, the establishment has a record of 1-5, and tea party has a record of 3-5.  Four unknowns were in blue states, so you can categorize them as you wish and the Tea Party will still have a better record.  For the red states, establishment candidates are 3-2 and tea party folks are 5-2.  BaZinga!  Based on this compilation, the bold colors of the Tea Party has a stronger record than the pastel establishment in both red and blue states.

This brings us to today.  Barely a month into the 113th Congress, we are apparently itching to fight for the composition of the 114th.  The next election will see “Obama coat-tail” Senate candidates that include 21 Democrats.  Can we pick off some of those incumbents and gain seats this time?  I count seven Romney states that have Senate seats held by Democrats (AK, AR, LA, MT, NC, SD, WV).  Democrats can only count Maine’s Susan Collins as a potential pickoff.  I also see six swing states that Obama carried that have Senate elections (CO, IA, MI, MN, NH, NM).

How about some red state rable-rousing? Well Georgia is going to be an open seat where the Republican, no matter who it is, will be the favorite. The Democrats may run a strong candidate so this is not an “in-the-bag” seat, but it is a tea party opportunity. Lindsey Graham? Well Tim Scott will also be running for the full term of his seat so Tea Party energy might go in that direction. Lamar Alexander and John Cornyn? Mitch McConnell? Oy vey! There are babies in bathwater, so we better be careful.

I’m still not over the November loss to Barack Obama.  What good are the Rush Limbaughs and Mark Levins and the Tea Party if we end up with a 2012 result?  The conservative turnout wasn’t there, either because they stayed home or because they don’t exist.  And I’m afraid that they may not exist – that elections will continue to be won by the votes of people who accept government as the answer to life’s ills.  Conservatives may simply be outnumbered.

Despite the CurrentTV propaganda that the Tea Party is the financial domain of the Koch brothers, I see the Tea Party as the true grassroots who can win despite being outspent in television advertising.  Karl Rove still thinks money equals support or the difference between winning and losing.  One thing is sure – the GOP disunity that results from this chasm benefits the Democrats.  Unity will equal victory.