Tea party takes national, state politics on a wild ride

Guest Editorial
In just a little more than six weeks, we’ll find out just how much of an impact the tea party folks have had on our representation nationally and perhaps in Michigan.

Certainly there’s ample evidence already that something is happening as a result of the tea partiers, who describe themselves as hard-line fiscal conservatives interested in lower taxes and less government — a lot less.

Tuesday’s round of primary elections in a handful of states offers the latest case in point.
In Delaware, for example, Christine O’Donnell (with backing from Sarah Palin and the tea party) pulled off a major upset in defeating incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Castle in the GOP Senate primary, 53 percent to 47 percent. The Republican party machinery had heavily backed Castle.

So far, the GOP’s preferred candidates have lost their Senate primaries to candidates who have tea party support in six states.

The tea party has aided candidates for both houses of Congress, from Alaska to Massachusetts, with votes and money since President Obama’s election in 2008. And the group’s victories so far seem to be energizing its deeply conservative constituency.

In Michigan, the tea party supporters cheered the announcement in April that Rep. Bart Stupak, a Democrat from Menominee, would retire and not seek re-election. The tea party had targeted him and staged rallies in his district, Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, and was preparing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertising to help defeat him.

The Michigan governor’s race has not been unaffected either, it seems. But in the Republican primary, the most conservative candidates — Pete Hoekstra, Mike Cox and Mike Bouchard — may have split conservative voters’ support, allowing the more moderate Republican Rick Snyder to win and face Democrat Virg Bernero.

In some places, an interesting dynamic is being created.

By defeating the mainstream Republicans in the primaries in some states, such as Delaware and Nevada, tea party supporters may have made it more difficult for Republicans to claim some seats they coveted and thought they could win.

In Delaware, GOP officials have serious doubts about O’Donnell’s chances, and so she may have trouble getting party money for her campaign against her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons. Karl Rove, longtime Republican strategist, has referred to some of her comments as “nutty.”

In Nevada, tea party favorite Sharron Angle won the Republican primary and, a few weeks ago, had a big lead over Democratic Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader, a key target of both the tea party and the GOP. She’s had some rhetorical gaffes and holds some extreme positions — she would do away with Medicare, Social Security and the Department of Education — and now the race is extremely close.

Campaigns in Michigan and around the country are moving to full speed now. The mood among many voters, whether they identify with the tea party or not, is one of disenchantment with government at all levels in the midst of lingering economic malaise.

What remains to be seen is the answer to questions such as these:

Will that disenchantment translate into a strong right-hand turn by voters who seemed to be turning left in 2008? Or will a general desire to “throw the bums out” hurt incumbents in both parties but not tip the balance in Congress?

And will the tea party will continue to exert influence over national, state and local politics for an extended period? Or will it begin to fade?

However those questions get answered, the candidates who are elected had better produce the results they promise.

If you think voters’ mood is ugly now, just wait and see what it will be like in two years if nothing gets done in Lansing and Washington, D.C.