In the Wild West House, a group of ‘midterm mustangs’ keep establishment Republicans on their toes

If Speaker John Boehner’s House is the frontier of Congresses, with a band of cowboy congressional leaders trying to break in 87 new horses, who do you picture as the bucking stallions? Would it be new lawmakers representing the reddest of red districts, in states like Mississippi, Texas and Utah? How about freshmen representing districts deep in Democratic territory — that not only President Obama, but Sen. John Kerry won in his campaign for president in 2004?

Consider this study in contrasts:

Freshmen Republican Rep. Alan Nunnelee represents Mississippi’s 1st District, where John McCain won 62 percent of the vote in 2008 and George W. Bush won 62 percent in 2004. Cook Political Report rates it R+14. Nunnelee beat fluke Democratic Rep. Travis Childers who’d won by splitting Republican opposition. The district had been in Republican hands for 14 years.

But in a key amendment vote pushed by House conservatives — and vigorously opposed by GOP leaders — to cut $22 billion more from the continuing resolution (CR) spending bill on Friday, Nunnelee voted no.

Meanwhile, freshman Republican Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle represents New York’s 25th District, where President Obama won with 56 percent of the vote. John Kerry and Al Gore won there, too. Cook Political Report rates it a D+3. But on the conservative spending amendment, Buerkle voted yes, potentially placing her in peril in her blue district.

As different as Nunnelee’s and Buerkle’s districts are, so were the ways they came to Washington, which may help explain their votes, insiders say.

Nunnelee won a competitive primary, besting Tea Party favorite Angela McGlowan, who announced her candidacy at the National Tea Party Forum. In the general election, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), the party leadership’s campaign arm, spent almost $1 million helping Nunnelee win.

In contrast, Buerkle got hardly any help from the NRCC: $85,000. None of the expert political handicappers thought she would win. But when she was in the trenches running against former Democratic Rep. Dan Maffei, Sarah Palin anointed Buerkle a “mama grizzly.” Helped by Tea Party activists, Buerkle somehow overcame David and Goliath odds (Maffei outraised her $2.7 million to $552,000) and won on Nov. 2.

Everyone knows the 87 freshmen Republicans elected to the House in a wave of Tea Party energy are looking for a fight on spending cuts.

As the CR was being written, the group angrily blew up discussions and forced much deeper cuts. On the floor, they helped defeat a duplicate fighter jet engine backed by none other than House Speaker John Boehner.

But while one might expect the ideological fervor of the Tea Party would come mostly from lawmakers representing solidly red districts, GOP insiders say a contingent of blue staters are some of the most feisty combatants in backroom meetings.

Call them the midterm mustangs, unbroken by the party structure.

Rep. Allen West, whose Florida beachfront district also went for Obama, Kerry and Gore, is another member of the group. Like Buerkle, the NRCC gave West $85,000.

Despite his deep blue district, he gave the keynote speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference and told the Weekly Standard in 2009: “There are three words I hate to hear used. I hate ‘big tent.’ I hate ‘inclusiveness.’ And I hate ‘outreach.’ I think you stand on the principles that make you great, which transcend everybody in America, and people will come to it.”