You win some, you lose some. The tea party movement – scattered across the country and without a unified message, leader or even Web site – scored several big victories in last night’s Super Duper Tuesday elections. But in several races, they fell short.
What does it all mean? The Republicans are probably going to continue reaching out to tea party activists who have energy and are helping with their quest to take back Congress. But as we saw with Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT), it’s not just the Democrats the tea party is after. Republicans are fair game in primary elections.
Here’s TPM’s scorecard of how tea partiers fared last night.
Big win in Nevada
Sharron Angle won the Republican nomination to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, crushing the candidacy of onetime favorite and former state party chair Sue Lowden.
Angle was fueled by the Tea Party Express, which spent big bucks on her behalf and helped organize in the state. The group is crowing this morning, sending emails thanking members for their donations and volunteer hours.
“Today the staff of the Tea Party Express was in a cab traveling in Las Vegas. The cab driver asked us what we were doing in town, and then excitedly told us he was voting for Angle. We heard it over and over again. People were energized that a straight-talking, principled conservative was challenging the political machine and fighting to take our country back,” the Tea Party Express wrote supporters.
But the Angle victory makes Jon Scott Ashjian, the official “Tea Party” candidate on the fall general election ballot, a probable loser. We’ve written quite a bit about Ashjian and his troubles, and the tea party has targeted him as a big fake all along.
A Maine surprise
In the race to succeed two-term Gov. John Baldacci (D), Maine Republicans nominated Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, who ran on a tea party platform without the group’s official endorsement. The Associated Press reports that LePage “surprised even himself with a commanding win.” He’ll challenge state Senate President Libby Mitchell (D).
LePage earned 38 percent of the vote among seven GOP candidates, a victory that came as the state Republican Party had adopted several elements of a tea party platform, including the closure of the Department of Education.
Georgia peach tea
Tea party favorite, former state Rep. Tom Graves, won the race to fill the open seat vacated by Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA). He was backed by Freedom Works and the Club for Growth and last night defeated former state Sen. Lee Hawkins in a runoff.
Forcing a runoff in the Palmetto State
Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC) will face a more conservative Republican in a runoff election June 22, after winning just 27 percent of the vote compared with Spartanburg County Solicitor Trey Gowdy, who earned 39 percent.
Gowdy wasn’t the preferred tea party candidate — Jim Lee and Christina Jeffrey were far behind the two at the top — but the Wall Street Journal reports they are likely to back his candidacy soon. Still, it’s considered a safe seat for the GOP this fall.
Not born to run
There was no New Jersey surge for tea partiers, as the group failed in each of their challenges to sitting Republicans.
All four of the five House Republicans from New Jersey survived primary challenges from “tea-party-inspired candidates,” the Wall Street Journal reports.
Cryin’ in California
Conservative and tea party favorite Chuck DeVore came in a distant third in the Golden State’s GOP primary for Senate. Carly Fiorina, who tacked to the right and touted a Sarah Palin endorsement, nabbed the party nod instead.
California reporters noticed the tea party flopping, and wrote this week that activists are already looking past the fall election.
Fail in bright-red Virginia district
In a big shift since the race began, tea party candidates in Virginia’s fifth Congressional district failed to get any traction. Instead, Republicans there nominated state Sen. Robert Hurt. He was a favorite of the Washington establishment since insiders feel he has the best chance at unseating freshman Rep. Tom Perriello, but Hurt was targeted by conservatives since he backed a $1.4 billion tax increase to balance the state’s budget in 2004.