As the 2012 elections season gears up, Virginia is emerging as a clear Senate pickup opportunity for Republicans. With Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s recent announcement that he will not seek reelection, former Republican Sen. George Allen has declared his intention to seek his old seat. But it won’t be an uncontested path to the nomination for Allen. Standing in his path is Tea Party-favorite Jamie Radtke.
Seen by some as a rising conservative star, Radtke has never held office before. Though that may be a disadvantage for some, for those in the Tea Party movement, it boosts their appeal. She also has a strong record as an effective political organizer, having built most of the local activism in Virginia’s Tea Party movement.
Radtke, who aspires to be like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul or South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint, seeks to present herself as Tea Party favorite and paint Allen as part of the establishment. Some influential beltway names are aiding her in shaping this narrative and throwing their support behind her, saying Allen represents the “old establishment.” Conservative strategist Richard Viguerie, the chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, told The Daily Caller Radtke is “sharp” and “knows the issues.”
“Jamie Radtke is a leader,” Viguerie said in a phone interview. “She’s young, she’s motivated to significantly reduce the size of government. I have not heard Allen talk about how he made mistakes and promises not to do it again.”
By “mistakes,” Viguerie is referring to Allen’s voting record in the Senate. He voted for No Child Left Behind and President George W. Bush’s Medicare prescription drug program. Radtke has said Allen’s voting record helped add $3.1 trillion to the national debt, including $90 billion in earmarks. “There’s a lot of reasons why I’m different than him,” she told TheDC
“The first thing is I haven’t been a politician for three decades,” she said. “I think people are really concerned about sending politicians back to D.C. who created the mess that we’re now facing.”
Another way Radtke is different from Allen is she’s likely to line up more with DeMint, Paul and Sens. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Mike Lee, Utah Republican. Allen’s critics say he’s more likely to play ball with the Republican leadership.
Radtke is also a staunch defender of grassroots activism, and believes in the power of the Tea Party movement. “Not just in Virginia, but everywhere, there is no doubt that I believe that our salvation depends on the grassroots movement,” Radtke said. “They will either continue to be committed and passionate and determined to keep their liberty and push government out of their lives or not. And, I believe that they are.”
Radtke has faith in the Tea Party’s ability to remain influential, adding that the two-year-old movement is “getting more sophisticated” and “learning what worked and didn’t work and improving upon that.” She thinks it’s funny, though, that so many “Republicans in Name Only,” or RINOs, are trying to attach themselves to the vibrant Tea Party movement. Radtke noted that Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, has appeared at several different Tea Party events as of late, and laughed about a new Virginia group, “Tea Party Patriots for George Allen.”
“We were going to start calling them TINOs, or ‘Tea Party in Name Only,’” Radtke joked. “That’s going to be our new nickname for them.”
More seriously, Radtke said, “ultimately, it’s going to be very difficult for those people to stand up to the scrutiny of the Tea Party because the Tea Party doesn’t make their decisions based on soundbites.”
Conservative legal expert Curt Levey told TheDC he was impressed with Radtke’s ability to understand issues, instead of just spewing “talking points.” Though neither he nor his organization, The Committee for Justice, have endorsed her, Levey met with Radtke to help brief her on some timely legal topics – like issues surrounding the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, the 10th Amendment, judicial activism and the amendment process for the U.S. Constitution. “I expected less, I have to say, because she’s not a lawyer,” Levey said. “I expected her just to sort of know the talking points…I remember remarking to somebody afterwards, ‘if you told me she was a lawyer, I would have believed it.”
Radtke is major proponent for a Repeal Amendment to the Constitution. What a Repeal Amendment would do, essentially, is allow a super-majority of states to overturn federal legislation they disagreed with.
“Our Founding Fathers strongly believed in checks and balances at the federal level, but they were also just as strong advocates for checks and balances vertically between state and federal government,” Radtke said. “Basically, you have very little of that left because of the 17th Amendment and because the states continue to take money from the federal government, be on the dole, and sort of limit their ability to check the federal government.”
Viguerie said Radtke’s early popularity is a sign that the Tea Party movement will live on and remain influential after last November’s midterm elections. “Republicans have made a mess of things,” Viguerie said. “Now, look for people who are young and new with solid conservative principles.”
Republican lawyer and strategist Mark Fitzgibbons told TheDC he thinks Radtke might be able to help the government shrink “for the first time in decades,” instead of just stopping or slowing growth, as most Republicans do.
“She’s very much up on the issues, but she approached the issues as a Constitutional conservative would,” Fitzgibbons said. A Constitutional conservative, Fitzgibbons said, is someone who will “look at what government is doing, and see if that is authorized by the Constitution.”
Despite the early optimism from Radtke and some of her supporters, political analyst Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, told TheDC he thinks Radtke has a long way to go considering Allen is an experienced politician who has a long electoral record in Virginia having served as both a U.S. Senator and the Governor of Virginia.
“It’s everybody’s guess a year out,” Sabato said. “Allen is a heavy favorite in the primary, but I emphasize the words ‘guess’ and ‘year out.’”
Radtke said she agrees with Sen. Rand Paul’s argument that the Tea Party movement “co-opted Washington,” not the other way around.
“If you look at who’s been driving the national debate over the last two years, it’s been the Tea Party movement,” Radtke said. “That’s the grassroots Tea Party movement – not the D.C. Tea Party movement. We, as a national movement, have set the agenda, so to speak, for the things that are going to be talked about: repealing Obamacare, reducing the debt, slashing spending. This idea that you would even look at abolishing full agencies would have been what a madman talked about two years ago.”