Chalk up another win for the tea party. And another embarrassment for the Republican establishment.
Tea party favorite and two-term state lawmaker Raul Labrador defeated Vaughn Ward, a Marine reservist heavily recruited by national Republicans, in Idaho's primary on Tuesday. Ward's loss comes on the heels of several other races in which GOP establishment candidates stumbled as the anti-Washington mood takes hold.
National Republicans had coached Ward and had made him one of their first named recruits, known as "Young Guns." He also had the backing of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
On Wednesday, the GOP wasn't talking about Ward.
"We look forward to continuing to work with Raul Labrador and are focused on the election in November," said Paul Lindsay, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Republicans who hope to win 40 or more House seats to seize back control of the House have set their sights on districts like Idaho's 1st, where Republican presidential candidate John McCain won 62 percent of the vote in 2008. The seat is held by a conservative first-term Democrat, Rep. Walt Minnick.
Ward, a decorated Iraq veteran, was an early front-runner and built a 6-to-1 fundraising edge, but Labrador entered the race and capitalized on Ward's mistakes.
Allegations of plagiarism surfaced as Ward was caught using issue papers from other campaigns and then, during the final days before the primary, it was discovered he used President Barack Obama's 2004 speech to the Democratic National Committee to launch his GOP campaign.
"He was the front-runner, here we are, his empire starts crumbling. It's kind of embarrassing," said state Sen. Monte Pearce, one of his chamber's most conservative members.
"I saw people at the store, people in the polls, everybody just shaking their heads," Pearce said.
In several House races, establishment-backed Republicans have faltered.
Last week, another recruit, Jeff Reetz, lost his Kentucky primary to a tea party favorite. Mary Beth Buchanan lost her primary challenge in Pennsylvania. In February, Ethan Hastert, the son of the former Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, lost his GOP primary.
Both parties' have seen preferred candidates fail to reach a head-to-head matchup in November. Sen. Arlen Specter lost his Democratic primary to Rep. Joe Sestak last week despite help from Obama and his vaunted campaign machine.
That same night, tea party favorite Rand Paul won his Kentucky Republican primary and vanquished the hand-picked candidate recruited by the Senate's most powerful Republican, Mitch McConnell, in his home state. A week later, libertarians said they would mount a campaign against Paul — the son of libertarian darling, Rep. Ron Paul of Texas — because he had become too cozy with Washington.
"People are feeling the implications of the decisions being made in Washington and they're feeling it at home," said Pete Seat, a spokesman for former Republican Sen. Dan Coats, who is running against incumbent Rep. Brad Ellsworth for Indiana's open Senate seat.
That was clear in Virginia on Wednesday. The Hampton Roads Tea Party endorsed businessman Ben Loyala over auto dealer Scott Rigell, establishment Republicans' favored candidate. The activists said they rejected Rigell because his auto dealership participated in the taxpayer-funded Cash for Clunkers program that was part of Obama's economic stimulus plan.
Associated Press writers Jessie L. Bonner in Boise, Idaho, and Roger Alford in Frankfort, Ky., contributed to this report.
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