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Is It Tea Time Everywhere? Is It Tea Time Everywhere?

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Is It Tea Time Everywhere?

The Electoral Mood Favors The GOP, But It Might Not Extend To More Extreme Candidates

When you have a theory about something, a useful exercise to conduct is to ask yourself, "If I am wrong, why am I wrong?" If you're intellectually honest, there's nobody better to poke holes in your theory than yourself. Presumably, you have studied and thought about the issue a great deal, and looked at it from many angles, and alternative theories would almost have to emerge.

In considering what could either go wrong for Republicans or go right for Democrats in the midterm elections, I keep coming back to GOP primaries and whether public anger and the Tea Party movement, the latest shiny object of fascination for the media, will affect things.


While my hunch is the Tea Party movement itself is being vastly exaggerated, it may well represent the tip of a much larger iceberg of anti-establishment, right-of-center people. These folks might or might not have been politically engaged before, but they fashion themselves as 2010 Minutemen and -women, a political militia fighting somewhat outside the traditional channels of the GOP and the conservative movement.

If Indiana Republicans nominate a perennially weak candidate like John Hostettler, or perhaps a Tea Party candidate, Brad Ellsworth could be well-positioned for the open Senate seat.

With only the primary elections in Illinois and Texas behind us, and no more until Indiana in early May, it is too soon to tell whether polling stations in GOP primaries will be jammed with a new wave of outsider voters who will change the complexion of the primary electorate and affect outcomes -- nominating more extreme, more bellicose candidates who might reflect that movement's anger but might be out of place in the more moderate world of a general election.


Kentucky's Senate race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jim Bunning might offer a test case. My hunch is that if the party's nod goes to Secretary of State Trey Grayson -- whom Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but endorsed -- then Democrats have little hope of picking up the seat.

On the other hand, if Rand Paul, son of libertarian Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, wins the nomination, Democrats -- particularly state Attorney General Jack Conway -- could win.

Indiana is a similar case. If former GOP Sen. Dan Coats had never retired and was simply running for re-election, he would be in strong shape.

But even having retired, he would have been better off had he gone back to Indiana after his stint as ambassador to Germany, instead of moving to Northern Virginia to become a Washington lobbyist.


And if he weren't on videotape effectively telling a North Carolina audience he intended to retire there but please don't tell the folks back in Indiana, he would have been stronger still.

Suffice to say Coats is a bit damaged, and House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence might have been a better candidate.

Even hindered by baggage, though, Coats is probably a decent bet to win the open seat against Democratic Rep. Brad Ellsworth, the tough former sheriff who traded in his badge for a congressional pin in 2006.

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But if Republicans nominate a perennially weak candidate like former Rep. John Hostettler, or perhaps a Tea Party candidate, Ellsworth could be well-positioned for the open seat.

Hostettler had an ugly habit of raising little money in off years, he had a lousy campaign organization, and every two years the national party had to bail his sorry rear end out -- until he lost to Ellsworth in 2006.

Hostettler made no friends at the National Republican Congressional Committee. Indeed, when he finally did lose, the feeling seemed to be, "Good riddance. In a cycle or two we'll get a Republican in that seat who will be worth defending and won't need to be bailed out every election year."

As a Senate candidate, Hostettler is likely to be a disaster, unless he has gotten a complete political makeover. He or a Tea Party type could lose what otherwise would be a fairly safe race.

Similarly in New Hampshire, if former state Attorney General Kelly Ayotte wins the GOP nomination, she would be a clear favorite to win the general election.

But if the more conservative Ovide Lamontagne, a former state Board of Education chairman, wins the nomination, suddenly Democratic Rep. Paul Hodes has a real chance of winning.

These are just the three most obvious scenarios regarding Senate races (the Florida contest isn't, because either Republican, Gov. Charlie Crist or former state House Speaker Marco Rubio, would be favored in the general election), but there are dozens of similar situations in congressional races.

If Republican primary voters nominate enough of those overamped conservatives -- ones less likely to survive a general election even in a great year for the party -- they could be held down to a four- or five-seat net gain in the Senate and maybe in the 20s or low 30s in the House.

Also, if there appear to be a bunch of these kinds of candidates making it onto the general election ballot as independents, that, too, could become a grave issue for Republicans.

The bottom line is that while the national political environment is horrible for Democrats, there are some potential problems that could keep the GOP from hitting a political grand slam.

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