Tea party candidates could lead Republicans to defeat

The tea party groups in Colorado have cause to celebrate, but the Republican Party may not. A recently released Rasmussen poll finds that “thirty-three percent of likely Colorado voters find themselves members of the tea party movement.” This is the highest percentage in the nation of a state’s voters identifying as members of tea party groups.

Sixty-four percent of Colorado Republican voters claim tea party membership, followed by 31 percent of unaffiliated voters. Ten percent are registered Democrats, according to the Rasmussen poll.

Despite the high percentage of Republican tea partiers, this is not necessarily good news for the GOP. What the tea parties haven’t done, writes Jessica Fender of The Denver Post, “is deliver voters to the GOP ranks.” Between February 2009 and May 2010, the GOP lost nearly 15,000, or 1.7 percent, of its active voters. During the previous mid-term election, Republicans gained votes, according to the Post story.

Democrats have lost even more. Since 2008, their registrations have declined by 39,000, or 4.6 percent. During a similar period, unaffiliated voters gained 20,000, or 2.8 percent, in new registrations. At close to 30 percent of voters each, the three groups in Colorado are virtually tied numerically.

Tea party hegemony is driving the GOP primaries to the extreme right. In a race that resembles Nevada and Kentucky, where obscure tea party candidates beat state Republican Party sponsored candidates, Ken Buck looks increasingly likely to beat Jane Norton in the U. S. Senate race. A Denver Post/9News poll shows Buck, “buoyed by outside TV buys and tea party sentiment,” leading Norton 53 percent to 37 percent among likely GOP primary voters. A perception that she is the choice of party officials is helping to drag Norton’s numbers down.

As Time magazine puts it, “Buck has tapped into tea party energy, working the movement’s events hard and winning the endorsement of South Carolina Senator and TP idol Jim DeMint.” However, the Time story continues, “Buck’s views are not quite as conservative as those of the upstart Republicans with major tea party support, like Nevada’s Sharron Angle or Kentucky’s Rand Paul.”

In the Republican gubernatorial race, businessman Dan Maes narrowly beat establishment candidate Scott McInnis in the GOP assembly. He will appear in the top spot on the Republican primary ballot.

Though not identifying himself as a tea party candidate, Maes says he supported tea party goals even before the groups were organized. He worked tea party and conservative organizations for months to earn his assembly victory.

After Republican mainstream gubernatorial candidate McInnis was mistakenly identified by Fox News as Colorado’s tea party candidate last December, tea partiers were offended that McInnis didn’t correct the record quickly enough.

“Scott has never implied the endorsement of the TEA (sic) Party organization,” his website says, and he “would not be so presumptive to claim an endorsement that doesn’t exist.”

McInnis also said, “The message of fiscal responsibility and downsizing government has really grabbed hold here. And the tea party organizations, the 9-12 organizations have risen in the spirit of this kind of message and they want to see delivery. Frankly, we think we have to earn every vote out there, and we’re working very hard to do that.”

In the Colorado 3rd Congressional District, tea party candidate Bob McConnell received 45 percent of the delegate vote at the district assembly, while better-known state Rep. Scott Tipton won the top ballot position with 55 percent. Both candidates received support from conservative and tea party groups, though McConnell seems to have more completely defined himself as a tea partier than Tipton.

But, while tea partiers enjoy their newly elevated status in the GOP, Colorado State Democratic Party Chair Pat Waak sees opportunity. “The majority of voters are really much more moderate and centrist,” Waak said. “You put forth the most right-wing, off-the-wall candidates and ... it does help Democrats.”

Unlike conventional party-line voters, tea partiers are unlikely to support a candidate who runs to the center after the primary. If their favored candidates are defeated, they may stay home in the general election. If their candidates win primaries, their extremism may cost those candidates support from moderates in the general election.

It could be a good year for Democrats.

Bill Grant lives in Grand Junction. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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