Although the tea party flexed its muscles in Kentucky Tuesday, lifting Rand Paul to a robust win in the GOP Senate primary, the movement's influence was weaker in Pennsylvania.
Candidates with tea party ties ran up and down the GOP ballot across the commonwealth, but Terry Madonna, a longtime observer of Pennsylvania politics and a professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, says their poor election showing surprised him.
Many of them did worse than expected, political analysts say, and GOP establishment candidates won in every instance.
State Rep. Sam Rohrer, a Berks County Republican with strong tea party ties, won only 31.3 percent of the vote against Attorney General Tom Corbett, the favorite of the GOP establishment. Corbett won with 68.7 percent of the vote. Corbett has garnered popularity in Pennsylvania in recent years because his bipartisan prosecutions of corrupt state legislators and their aides.
“Although the polls leading up to the election showed Corbett winning, I actually thought that, if the tea party did anything, they could get Corbett down in the low 60s and high 50 range,” Madonna tells Newsmax. “That didn’t work.”
Unlike Paul, Rohrer had little statewide name recognition and little money to spend, which Madonna says hampered his campaign despite his self-avowed tea party connection.
Although fundraising shackled Rohrer statewide, he did better in areas with strong tea party groups, Rohrer supporter State Rep. Curt Schroder tells Newsmax.
Rohrer picked up 40 percent of the vote in Chester County, a suburban Philadelphia county that has developed a swing electorate in recent years.
“If you look at some of the townships and municipalities . . . Sam really cleaned up,” Schroder says. “If you look at areas with strong conservative groups, he tends to do very well.”
Tea party turnout likewise failed to put Republican businessman Tim Burns over the top in the race for the late John Murtha’s seat against Democrat Mark Critz, a former Murtha aide.
“I didn’t see any impact in the challenge against incumbents for the state House, of which there were nine in Pennsylvania,” Madonna says.
Only one tea party candidate won against an incumbent GOP state representative statewide, but Schroder says tea party-affiliated candidates did well in their races for his local Republican county committee, which has responsibility for endorsing candidates.
Every incumbent GOP member of Congress easily defeated tea party-affiliated challengers.
GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach, whose 6th Congressional District has remained a perennial Democratic target, easily defeated tea party candidate Pat Sellers by an 80 percent-20 percent margin. The same was true in the 15th Congressional District where incumbent moderate GOP Rep. Charles Dent trounced tea partyer Mat Benol by an 82 percent-17 percent margin. In the 19th Congressional District, incumbent Rep. Todd Platts beat tea partyer Michael Smeltzer by a 70 percent-30 percent margin.
Peg Luksik, a conservative activist with tea party ties who ran several times for governor in the ’90s, barely made a scratch against former GOP Rep. Pat Toomey, whose primary challenge prompted Sen. Arlen Specter’s unsuccessful bid for re-election as a Democrat. Toomey beat Luksik, 81.5 percent to 18.15 percent.
“If there is anything about Toomey, he is probably somebody the tea party people can get behind because he pretty much agrees with the goals of the tea party movement,” Madonna said.
Darryl Metcalfe, a tea party-backed candidate for lieutenant governor, placed third with 12.7 percent of the vote amid a crowded field of eight candidates. Jim Cawley, the endorsed GOP candidate, won with 26.3 percent of the vote.
Schroder and Madonna, however, agree that the tea party movement will play a positive role in energizing the Republican base.
“I think they will really help Republican candidates, those who are conservative as well as those who are moderate,” Schroder tells Newsmax.
Madonna, however, says the tea partyers’ full impact probably will not be known until the fall because many are registered independents, ineligible to vote in Pennsylvania’s closed primary.
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