In a southwest corner far from the political action, an Ohio congressional race reverberated all the way to D.C.
Four-term Republican Rep. Jean Schmidt lost her re-election bid on Tuesday to Brad Wenstrup, a physician and Iraqi war veteran whose only previous political campaign was a failed bid to become Cincinnati mayor.
It's yet another scalp for the Tea Party, in its goal of ridding the Republican Party of politicos who it views as too mild and insufficiently committed to the conservative cause. But the target this time is leaving many surprised.
"If you look at the overall record, she would not qualify on any scale I could think of as a moderate," says Jane Anderson, a professor of political science at the University of Cincinnati.
Nor was she known as being timid. After taking office in 2005, Schmidt soon garnered the nickname "Mean Jean" for her comments about Democratic Pennsylvania Rep. John Murtha, after Murtha called for troops to be pulled from Iraq. "Cowards cut and run, Marines never do," Schmidt said on the floor of the House. The comment was blasted by many from the left, noting that Murtha was in fact a veteran of the Marine Corps.
Schmidt's loss only furthered speculation that Washington would become more polarized.
"The Republican internal feud that keeps pushing them further and further to the right just claimed another win," says one Democratic aide.
But despite her conservative bona fides, Schmidt became a target of Tea Party-affiliated groups, including the Texas-based Super PAC the Campaign For Primary Accountability. To opponents, Schmidt's conduct was all too symbolic of a party which had lost touch with its mission and values. She had recently been investigated by the House Ethics Committee for accepting free legal services from the Turkish American Legal Defense Fund, as Congress was debating whether to officially recognize the Armenian genocide.
Schmidt's political demise will likely further dampen hopes for bipartisan cooperation on Capitol Hill this year. Anxiety about insurgent challenges from the right was one of the main reasons why striking deals on the debt ceiling and budget was so difficult in 2011, and Schmidt's loss will only make Republican members of Congress more fearful.
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