Will Tea Party Victories in the Primaries Really Hurt Republicans This Fall?

Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)
Delaware GOP Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

Karl Rove and other Republicans who have long been in the political realm are not too pleased by the surge of Tea Party victories in the primaries. These underdog wins over favored Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate have thrown a kink into the plans of the GOP to regain control of Congress.

Upset victories by Tea Party candidates from Delaware (Christine O'Donnell) to Kentucky (Rand Paul) to Nevada (Sharron Angle) have added some uncertainty to Republican expectations heading into the fall campaign, considering Congress' current approval ratings. Led by former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, Tea Party candidates have proved over the past several months that they are indeed a genuine political force within the conservative movement.

Yet, just like Palin, many of these Tea Party candidates have shown a propensity for triggering controversies on the national level because of the same grassroots rhetoric that helped them win nomination in the Republican primaries. Paul's infamous statements suggesting that he would have opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 caused concern, only to be eclipsed by Angle's musings about taking up "Second Amendment remedies" if the federal government failed to change direction soon.


Rove and others have a point: Most of the Tea Party-backed candidates running this November are not polished, tenured politicians. They are more inclined to make rookie mistakes in the media, in debate and in strategy that could cost Republicans seats at play in both the House and the Senate.

And yes, some in the Republican Party are still unwilling to let go of the culture war that has existed since Michael Steele was elected to lead the GOP in January 2009. (Many of Chairman Steele's problems have come from his own unfortunate moves, but some have also centered on his willingness to diversify and modify the image of the RNC away from its legacy Southern strategy.) The proliferation of Tea Party nominees in the Republican field makes these issues more complex as the GOP tries to stay relevant and attractive to a new segment of voters.

Just as in 2008, the candidates backed by the Tea Party movement will remind voters that the election of 2010 — with issues like high unemployment, largely unsuccessful government spending and legislative "victories" unpopular with the majority of Americans — is not about political parties. This fall, as in 2008, it is about indicting the bureaucratic establishment in Washington.

And to the Republicans' advantage, their image is blending with a grassroots movement that will usher in unexpected victories for the GOP in November, much as the Democrats used technology, youth, diversity and the Bush legacy to gain sweeping victories in 2008.


The inexperience of some candidates who rode to prominence by way of the Tea Party may make it more difficult to advance the political ball this fall for the minority party, but even if these candidates threaten the Republican legacy establishment, they are not likely to prevent the Republicans from regaining control of Congress.

Lenny McAllister is a syndicated political commentator and frequent contributor to The Root. He will host the morning radio show Launching Chicago With Lenny McAllister Tuesday, Sept. 21, on WVON, The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM.

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