By Chris Good
A question hovering around the tea party movement has been: will it hurt Republicans at the polls in November, generating third-party candidates and sucking votes away from the GOP?
Polling released this past week by Quinnipiac says this is a possibility: with tea party candidates running in a generic race, Republicans go from winners to losers, with just 25% of the vote. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, for its part, has put together a list of races involving conservative challengers, some running as third-party candidates, advertised as “Palin’s Primaries.”
I don’t know the answer to this question for sure, but I do know this: top tea party organizers are not interested in supporting third-party candidates, or in forming official Tea Party political parties in states, which means it’s unlikely we’ll see an organized movement to form Tea Parties and make trouble in GOP-stronghold districts.
In other words: the tea party movement won’t rise up to challenge the GOP, on a national scale, any time soon.
“Personally, I think it’s better to run within the established parties and try to change the parties,” said Jenny Beth Martin, national co-chair of the group Tea Party Patriots. Martin’s group claims to have 15 million members; after surveying local organizers, Tea Party Patriots leaders put out a statement making clear that it did not support the formation of a Tea Party political party.
With guidance from the Dick Armey-led FreedomWorks, the tea party movement figures to target, in organized fashion, about four House races and four Senate races this fall. None of those include third-party bids.
As far as third-party candidates go, it’s more likely that individuals will decide to run, without the encouragement of state or national organizers, seeking to claim the tea party mantle.
But it’s questionable whether such candidates would garner enough support to make a difference, despite the findings from Quinnipiac. It’s one thing to tell a pollster you like the idea of a tea party candidate–and, to be sure, some conservatives are upset with the Republican Party, based on TARP and Bush-era spending–but another thing to vote for a candidate who is polling low, especially if a Republican candidate has tacked sufficiently to the right.
We saw a tea partier run in the Massachusetts Senate race, but Joe Kennedy (no relation to the Kennedy family, or to the other Joe Kennedy) only got 1% of the vote.