While Republicans scored a number of big wins across the country last week, netting one of the largest seat gains in Congress in half a century, Tea Party-backed candidates for Senate produced a far more mixed record.
Though Pennsylvania Republican Senator-elect Pat Toomey, along with Marco Rubio and Rand Paul, all won major contested races this election cycle, an equal number of other Tea Party-supported candidates fell to rival Democrats. Ken Buck in Colorado, Christine O’Donnell in Delaware and even Sharron Angle in Nevada — who faced the highly unpopular incumbent Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — fell short in their respective states.
Political analysts have offered conflicting theories about why many of these candidates won or lost their respective races.
“This was a national election,” Democratic political consultant Larry Ceisler said. Ceisler argued that Tea Party candidates running in other states helped Toomey specifically, suggesting that the contrast between his rhetoric and that of Angle and O’Donnell made him appear like a candidate one “could disagree with, but did not think was over the edge.”
“Toomey had the slight advantage,” Ceisler added, arguing that the bad economy and national mood likely pushed the election just enough in his favor for him to win.
Other analysts suggested the results were more a reflection of the individual candidates.
“Despite the effort to nationalize the election, most of these races were local races,” political analyst and Saint Joseph’s University history professor Randall Miller explained. Referring back to a number of supposed political gaffes by O’Donnell and Angle, Miller argued that many of the losing candidates were simply “not as effective campaigning” as their opponents.
“Toomey was able to cast himself as a moderate,” Miller said, explaining that the senator-elect “already had the credentials” of a fiscal conservative and did not need to cater as much to the basic themes of the Tea Party during the general election.
Tea Party members on campus agreed that the candidates’ backgrounds did make a difference. Toomey “has real business experience,” explained Penn Tea Party Patriots founder and Graduate School of Education student Dan Chinburg. “I think that really resonated with voters.”
Explaining that the election was a referendum on big government, Chinburg argued that the victories of Tea Party-backed candidates proved Americans “will not stand for any compromise on [their] freedoms.”
Chinburg also attributed some of the Tea Party’s losses to a lack of support from the Republican Party. O’Donnell, for instance, “didn’t get the full backing of the GOP,” he explained. “Karl Rove undercut her.”
Ceisler disagreed that a Democratic financial advantage played a role in O’Donnell’s loss, suggesting that unlike Toomey, O’Donnell “was cooked before she started. People knew who she was.”
“She lost because she wasn’t in the mainstream of Delaware politics,” he added.Comments powered by Disqus
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