The Tea Party movement has led thousands of Americans to a new level of involvement in political activism. In 2010, Americans elected newly-minted Tea Party activists as mayors, legislators, representatives and senators. As the movement matures and realizes what it can accomplish, we will likely see more Tea Party activists run — and win — in 2012.
One of the first activists to step forward to run for office in 2012 is Virginia’s Jamie Radtke. Radtke is the president of the Richmond Tea Party, a founding board member of Restore the Founders’ Vision, and a former chairwoman of the Virginia Tea Party Patriot Federation. In all respects, she is one of the best-known Tea Party leaders in America. And while effectiveness can be hard to judge in a movement like this one, she seems to be among the most effective, as well. Just after Christmas, Radtke announced her intention to challenge Virginia Senator Jim Webb, if he chooses to seek re-election.
Radtke is not a traditional Senate candidate. She is a mother of three young children, and she is home-schooling all three. She has never been elected to any office — has never run for any, in fact. Her “inside Washington” experience is limited to a brief stint on the staff of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, during the chairmanship of Senator Jesse Helms. Since 2004, she’s worked full-time to make the government smaller — first as Political and Grassroots Director for the Virginia Conservative Action PAC, and later running campaigns for grassroots conservative candidates, often against entrenched incumbents. Ultimately, her passion about the nation’s course led her to get involved in the Tea Party movement.
And as a Tea Party organizer, Radtke has few equals. With her leadership, the Richmond Tea Party was transformed from a small group with enthusiasm — and not much else — into a highly organized team that could turn out thousands of volunteers. She organized the nation’s largest Tea Party convention, which was held in Richmond in October. Her energy and organizational skills have been a boon to the movement in the state and nationwide.
In her Senate run, Radtke seems primed to focus relentlessly on economic issues. She has spoken extensively on the lame-duck Congress’s tax deal, the debt ceiling, the stimulus, and other fiscal issues that will be back before Congress in the weeks and months ahead. She’ll push Senator Webb and the other 2012 Senate candidates to join her in committing to slash spending. With her energy and intelligence, it’s a good bet that she will drive the debate and force others to explain how they will fix the mess in Washington.
It is by no means assured that Radtke will win the Republican nomination against Webb — let alone the Senate seat. Former Senator George Allen is widely expected to seek a rematch against Webb, who defeated him in 2006. There will likely be other candidates in the race, too. But Radtke is showing that the new citizen-activists won’t be cowed into standing aside just because a legendary name and former officeholder is planning a race. Her run embodies one of the key ideas at the heart of the Tea Party movement: the belief that Washington doesn’t know best, and that the best way to clean up the mess in DC is to send in a new team with different ideas. Radtke may succeed or fail, but her willingness to enter the race is a decision we should all cheer.
Gary Aldrich is the president of Liberty Central.