Saturday, November 13, 2010

Will The Tea Party Help or Hurt Republicans?

The Bigger Picture
Published on October 15th 2010 in Metro Éireann By Charles Laffiteau

In my most recent column I said that I had serious doubts enough Republican candidates for Congressional seats would succeed in broadening their appeal to independent voters for the Republican Party to regain its old position of power in Congress. While many political pundits in America, particularly those who are supportive of the uber-conservative Tea Party movement, have no such doubts, I believe there are simply too many things that must fall their way for Republicans to win control of the next US Congress.
To begin with, in order to take control of the all important US Senate, the Republican Party must successfully defend all of its own Senate seats and win at least 10 seats now held by Democrats. Now if the Democratic Senate seats that were most at risk were all in the more conservative Southern states or more sparsely populated Western states, then a net gain of 10 Senate seats might just have been possible.
But the very same Tea Party movement that the Republican Party has been so quick to embrace, has also succeeded in getting a number of ultra-conservative Republican candidates nominated in Democratic leaning Northeastern states such as New York, Connecticut and Delaware. But had the more moderate Republican candidates in these states won the Republican nomination to contest these Democratic Party Senate seats, then I believe a net gain of 10 Senate seats would have been within the Republican Party’s grasp.
However, absent a tectonic shift in voter sentiments in these normally Democratic leaning states, I simply don’t see the darlings of the Tea Party winning there on Election Day. Furthermore, I’m also not so sure the Tea Party candidates, that won the Republican Party’s nomination in Western states like Nevada and Colorado, are capable of wining back Democratic Senate seats in those normally Republican leaning states either. Nor is retaining control of Republican held US Senate seats in the states of Alaska, Kentucky, Florida and New Hampshire a given come Election Day.
One of the keys to Republican Party success on Election Day that I cited in my previous column is the ability of their candidates to win the support of the Republicans they vanquished in their party primaries earlier this year. Well in Alaska the Republican loser, Lisa Murkowski, is running against the Republican winner who was supported by the Tea Party and Sarah Palin, Joe Miller, as a write-in candidate. In Florida, Republican Governor Charlie Crist is running as an Independent against another Republican nominee who was a Palin and Tea Party favorite. Furthermore, Republicans are also locked in close contests to retain control of other Republican held Senates seats in Kentucky and New Hampshire.
So even if the Republican Senate candidates are able to mount aggressive get-out-the-vote campaigns involving their Tea Party supporters and or are blessed with bad weather in their respective states on Election Day, which historically holds down Democratic voter turn out, I still don’t see them also overcoming many of these internal splits between moderate Republican voters and ultra- conservative Tea Party movement supporters. I also question how successful Republican candidates backed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement will be attracting support from independent voters.
Granted, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party activists have energized older predominately white and more conservative voters throughout America and garnered support for the more conservative Republican candidates they favor. But while this was a benefit in Republican primaries, it is at best a mixed blessing for Republican candidates in the General Election.
For one thing, while Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement are viewed favorably by a majority of Republican voters, such is not the case with Democratic or Independent voters. But since the American electorate is split with roughly a third of voters supporting the Republican Party and another third the Democratic Party, it is the other third of Independent voters who hold the key to winning most General Election battles.
Independent voters may not share the overwhelmingly negative views of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement that Democratic voters have, but they are nonetheless decidedly negative towards both Palin and the Tea Party movement. Recent polls show that although 52% of Independent voters have no opinion about the Tea Party movement, just over 30% have a negative view while only 18% regard the Tea Party movement favorably.
As for the Tea Party movement’s favorite national (i.e. Presidential) candidate, Sarah Palin fares even worse among both Democratic and Independent voters. While the overwhelmingly negative views of Democrats are hardly surprising, Sarah Palin’s decidedly negative polling among independent voters is an ominous sign for both the Republican Party and the Republican candidates Sarah Palin has endorsed and supported. Over 50% of American voters and almost 40% of Independent voters have negative views about Sarah Palin and over 66% of American voters rather cynically believe she is more interested in staying in the public’s eye than in helping elect the Republican candidates she has endorsed
To regain control of Congress, Republicans must also defend their own seats in the US House of Representatives and realize a net gain of 39 seats currently held by Democrats. This is another tall order for the Republican Party, but also one that is more achievable than winning control of the US Senate since 55 of the Democrats must defend their House seats in districts that voted for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential election. Another favorable omen for Republicans in US House races is the fact that the political party that controls the US Presidency historically loses at least 20-25 seats in the House in mid-term elections.
But just as the Tea Party endorsements helped many Republican House candidates win the Republican nomination, so too will these endorsements hinder their attempts to appeal to more centrist independent voters on Election Day. So in my next column I will make some predictions about the Election Day outcomes and Republican prospects for taking control of both the US House and Senate.

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