Four 2010 House races to watch for Tea Party impact

Will Tea Partiers be able to oust tax-and-spend incumbents in the House and replace them with fiscal conservatives in November?

Cook Political Report House races editor David Wasserman is doubtful.

“Every race has a Tea Party presence in the electorate, but it tends to be vastly exaggerated in the media,” Wasserman said. “The Tea Party is more noise than numbers, and top GOP pollsters tell me self-identified Tea Party voters account for 20 percent of GOP primary voters max in any one race.”

Tea Partiers, unsurprisingly, reject such a characterization and say they are well positioned to influence elections. A number of groups have released lists of targeted races they aim to sway.

Yesterday The Daily Caller listed five Tea Party senatorial races to watch. Now we turn our eyes to House races with interesting Tea Party components:


At crunch time in the health-care debate, Nancy Pelosi needed Democrats from conservative districts to vote for the legislation, even though she knew it would cause trouble for the members back home.

Rep. Tom Perriello, a Democrat serving his first term in Congress from conservative southern Virginia who pulled off an upset when he won his seat by knocking off a six-term incumbent Republican in 2008, took that bullet for the speaker.

He voted for Obama’s health-care reform bill — and Tea Partiers want revenge. After the passage of the bill, one Tea Party activist posted Perriello’s brother’s address (mistakenly thought to be the congressman’s) online, encouraging protesters to drop by his home. It was reported that a gas line at the address was cut.

Seven Republicans are running in the June 8 primary, hoping to challenge Perriello in November. Robert Hurt, a more mainstream Republican, faces a challenge from a group of conservative candidates. But Hurt has outraised his Tea Party backed primary opponents, appearing to hold them off for now.

“Will a ‘common-sense conservative’ like Robert Hurt lose the nomination to any Tea Party-identified candidate, such as Laurence Verga, Jim McKelvey or Michael McPadden? I highly doubt it,” Wasserman said.

Perriello is expected to have the money to put up a decent fight: Last month, his campaign announced that he raised a record $600,000 during the first quarter of the campaign cycle, for a total of $1.4 million in his war chest.

The bottom line: We’ll be watching to see if Perriello is a casualty of the health-care bill or if Tea Partiers nominate a Republican candidate too far right to win in November.

Michigan – 1
Republican Dan Benishek in Michigan raked in thousands of dollars the night his congressman, Democrat Rep. Bart Stupak, made a deal on behalf of pro-lifers ensuring President Obama’s health-care bill would pass the House.

Stupak had held strong against the legislation until he was promised that Obama would sign an executive order prohibiting funding to be used for abortions. He became a villain of Tea Partiers overnight, and Benishek, an unknown doctor running as a Republican for Stupak’s seat, was transformed into an Internet sensation. Angry activists sent money his way for revenge on Stupak.

Weeks later, Stupak announced his retirement from the House, after the Tea Party Express announced that going after the congressman was a top priority. At a Thursday press conference, the Tea Party group took credit for forcing Stupak out.

With Stupak out of the race, the seat is said to be a tossup and Republicans have a shot at taking it. But Stupak’s would-be primary challenger, Democrat Connie Saltonstall, also raised some dough following the health-care bill, bringing in $105,000 in the months  from Democrats across the country. Two other Democratic state representatives are eying the seat.

The bottom line: Watch to see if this race proves to be an example where the force of the Tea Parties pushed out a scared incumbent.

Florida – 8
One of the biggest misconceptions, Wasserman said, is the notion that there is a tidal wave of third-party candidates running on a Tea Party ticket.

Peg Dunmire, challenging fiery liberal Democrat Rep. Alan Grayson on the Tea Party of Florida ticket, is one of the few such candidates. (Yet there are a number of self-proclaimed Tea Party candidates running across the country as independents, including Donn Janes running for the Tennessee 8th District seat).

Grayson, serving his first term, is a favorite target of Tea Partiers, of whom the congressman said in an interview this week: “I can tell you that they should be glad that health-care reform has mental health coverage, because some of them need it.”

Nearly a dozen conservatives are running in the GOP primary to challenge Grayson.

While Wasserman downplayed the chances of Dunmire making a big difference in the race, he said more Tea Party candidates could surface. “There could be more by the end of the cycle if these parties can go through the tedious process of getting recognized on the ballot,” he said.

Of course, there is the possibility that Tea Partiers who lose races for the Republican nomination will turn towards independent bids.

The bottom line: Watch this race to see if the presence of third party and independent candidacies cost Republican votes and help propel Democrats into office.

Alabama – 5

It’s not just about party affiliation, some Tea Party folks in Parker Griffith’s Alabama district say.

Griffith, who was elected to Congress in 2008 as a Democrat, switched parties, becoming a Republican and losing almost his entire staff as a result. He’s facing two Republican challengers in August’s primary.

Just because he’s now a member of Lincoln’s party, not all are embracing him. An Alabama Tea Party group organized a rare alliance of both liberal and conservative activists in March to protest Republican Minority Leader John Boehner’s visiting Griffith’s district to raise money for the GOP’s newest member from Alabama.

The bottom line: Does the “R” next to a candidate’s name really matter to Tea Partiers?

What races, involving Tea Parties, are the most telling to you?

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