For most conservative candidates this year, a strong endorsement from a tea party group is something to be treasured and touted. But what happens when the tea party that supported you happens to be the increasingly-ostracized Tea Party Express, hauling the baggage of its very much ostracized spokesperson, Mark Williams?
Williams, of course, has come under all sorts of fire for his racist blog post last week needling the NAACP after they passed a resolution calling on the tea party to condemn its more racist elements.
This creates a problem for several high-profile Republican candidates — and even one Democrat. Do they disavow Williams and the TPE, and risk steaming the very tea partiers who made them who they are today? Or do they stick with Williams and the Express and risk being labeled racist sympathizers — which even in this electoral climate is still a bad thing?
Here’s how four key Tea Party Express-backed candidates are handling this quandary. And surprise, surprise — they’re largely trying to delicately sidestep the issue.
Sharron Angle: Nevada’s Republican nominee for Senate is perhaps the candidate most associated with the Tea Party Express, and has Williams and his group at least partially to thank for aiding her come-from-behind primary win. Faced with Williams’ implosion, Angle punted, as Mother Jones reports:
Angle’s campaign issued a statement to CNN that managed to avoid mentioning Williams’ name directly and spin the controversy into a chance to bash her opponent, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “Mrs. Angle readily condemns the use of the type of inflammatory language used on somebody’s private blog just like she condemned the language used by Majority Leader Harry Reid when he referenced our President as being a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one’,” Angle’s spokesman Jerry Stacy said, referring to Reid’s racially tone-deaf comments that appeared in Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s book Game Change.
Marco Rubio: Rubio might be the original tea party candidate, having bumped Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican primary for Senate in Florida thanks to a big boost from the movement. Like Angle, he has to tread lightly when it comes to talking about the sometimes racial overtones of tea partying that the Williams episode has highlighted. On CNN yesterday, he rejected the idea that Williams’ racist screed represented the larger movement.
“Well I think it’s unfortunate that labels like that are used to brand an entire group of people, the vast majority of whom are folks that care and love their country, believe it’s the greatest country on earth,” Rubio told the network.
Joe Miller: One of the newest additions to the Tea Party Express stable, Miller is a conservative attorney in Alaska that the TPE — and Sarah Palin — hope will defeat Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R) in the state’s August 24 primary. Like Angle, Miller’s insurgent campaign is getting the attention it is largely because of national backing from people like Palin and groups like the TPE. Maybe that’s why Miller essentially dismissed a question on ABC’s Topline this week about whether he should accept help from the TPE after Williams was ousted from the Tea Party Federation over his racist blog post.
“I think it’s appropriate for us to make an unequivocal statement that this campaign is not in any way racist,” Miller said. “We will embrace, though, the help that’s brought to this campaign by those that are really supportive of limited government.”
Walt Minnick: The lone Democrat on the Tea Party Express’ 2010 “Heroes” list, Idaho’s 1st District incumbent Representative kinda-sorta welcomed the endorsement from the TPE, a move that made sense in tea-party-heaven Idaho. But the mutually beneficial relationship (Minnick got conservative cred in a conservative state and the TPE got a Democrat to prove it wasn’t just an arm of the GOP) came to a sudden and abrupt end after Williams’ letter. Politico reported Monday that Minnick “sent a letter to the Tea Party Express Monday calling the blog post from activist Mark Williams ‘reprehensible.'”
“Since the Tea Party Express refuses to reject and rebuke Mr. Williams, I have no choice but to decline your endorsement,” Minnick reportedly wrote in the letter.