By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder argues today that the much ballyhood Tea Party movement may not be helping the GOP at all and may in fact be hurting it. It's a theme I've been riffing on for a while now, and I make a similar argument in my column in today's edition of U.S. News Weekly. And there are a couple of new polls out today that reinforce what both Ambinder and I are saying.
Indeed, a case can be made that, in the states and races where the Tea Party has been active, just the opposite has happened: the Republican candidate has been weakened, and the Democratic candidate has been strengthened.
He notes that Rand Paul has made the race to replace retiring Sen. Jim Bunning in Kentucky unnecessarily competitive, and that the Tea Party's purge of Charlie Crist has taken Marco Rubio from being well ahead in a two-way race against Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek to being in a dog-fight in a three way contest to replace retiring GOP Sen. George Lemieux. [See where Meek gets his campaign funds]
And you can look at the flip-side as well. As I note in my column, Tea Partyers expressed varying levels of opposition to the Republican nominees (actual and expected) in the four Senate races that are currently viewed as likely to flip from Democrat to Republican. Conservatives don't like moderate Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware (the old Biden seat, currently occupied by Sen. Ted Kaufman); they actively opposed Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois (the old Obama seat, which Sen. Roland Burris is vacating) and ex-Sen. Dan Coats in Indiana (from whence Evan Bayh is retiring). And they even groused about the ridiculously popular North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, a Republican, running to replace retiring Sen. Byron Dorgan.
Of course, as I write today, Paul is not necessarily an outlier. He could well be a GOP harbinger. In Colorado, Tea Party favorite Ken Buck runs behind Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, according to pollster.com's most recent average of polls, while establishment pick Jane Norton runs slightly ahead of the incumbent. Look to Nevada, where former state lawmaker Sharron Angle was wallowing in the margin of error before the double boost of an endorsement from the Tea Party Express and Sue Lowden's "chickens for checkups" musings turned the GOP primary race into a three-way battle (along with Danny Tarkanian).
A new poll from the Las Vegas Review-Journal shows that Lowden is the strongest potential challenger to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, beating him 42-39 percent. Angle, by contrast, is the only one of the top GOP candidates who's currently losing to Reid, by that same 42-39 margin. "She's the most polarizing," pollster Brad Coker told the paper. [See who contributes to Reid]
Or look to Washington state, where Rasmussen has fresh polling numbers suggesting that incumbent Sen. Patty Murray would face a real battle against GOP-er Dino Rossi (she leads 48-47 against him), but would face a much easier time against NFL player Clint Didier, who has an endorsement from Sarah Palin. (Murray leads him 47-37.)
So run, Tea Partyers, run.