The defeat of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was from the outset perhaps the top priority of the Tea Party Express, according to an internal memo obtained by Politico. The group’s focus on unseating the Democratic Senate leader appears to bolster the charge that its priorities dovetail more closely with those of the Republican party than with the more independent Tea Party movement.
The memo (pdf) was written in April 2009 by Joe Wierzbicki of Russo, Marsh — the California Republican consulting firm, run by veteran consultant Sal Russo, that created the PAC that runs Tea Party Express. As Politico reported, Wierzbicki proposed launching the Tea Party Express as a bus tour across the country, arguing that it would “give a boost to our PAC and position us as a growing force/leading force as the 2010 elections come into focus.”But the memo also makes clear that bringing down Reid was central to the plan from the start. In laying out the project’s first steps, Wierzbicki writes:
We’ll be working on the potential tour route and “Defeat Harry Reid” campaign (which is the first campaign we will be launching a fundraising drive for and producing advertising for)…
Reid also figures several other times in the 3-page memo. Near the top, Wierzbicki writes:
Examples of the types of individuals who we will target include: Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut and also likely Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania (by targeting him we can also show that we are not simply targeting Democrats, but also those Republicans who have been guilty of being fiscally irresponsible).
(Specter switched to the Democratic party about a month later.)
Wierzbicki even discusses strategy for creating anti-Reid ads:
We’ve already discussed doing a “casting call” among our Nevada supporters and donors to appear in at least one of our TV ads targeting Harry Reid – to buttress our “authenticity” in running ads in the state. It will be harder for Reid and his supporters to attack us if Nevadans are the ones onâcamera delivering the message.
Of course, it’s not a surprise that a Tea Party group would be no fan of Harry Reid. But toppling the Democratic leader is as much a Republican priority as a Tea Party one — as the example of 2004, when Republicans set out, successfully, to defeat then-Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle, suggests. The fact that Reid’s campaign seemingly was Russo Marsh’s top priority in formulating the Tea Party Express offers another stark reminder that the group may have more in common with an independent expenditure campaign on behalf of the GOP than an autonomous grassroots uprising — a charge that grassroots Tea Partiers have leveled at Tea Party Express in the past.
The keen interest that Tea Party Express has taken in the Reid race hasn’t waned. Just today, the group announced it would support former state assemblywoman Sharron Angle in the Republican primary.
“We will invest the resources necessary for Sharron Angle to win the Republican primary through an aggressive independent expenditure campaign,” said Wierzbicki in a press release. “Sharron Angle’s victory is our top priority for support in the primaries in the 2010 elections.