Will voters love Tea Party candidates in November?

Posted July 19, 2010, at 5:39 p.m.

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!” shouted news broadcaster Howard Beale in the classic 1976 movie “Network.” At a time when most attentive Americans either are very worried or mad as hell, the angriest are those who support the recently born Tea Party movement.

Tea Party supporters hold many traditionally conservative views, such as opposing the health care reform act and activist government in general. But in many ways, they are far more conservative and suspicious than most Americans. A recent CBS News-New York Times poll showed that 30 percent believed “President Obama was born in another country”; another 29 percent said that they didn’t know. Ninety-two percent believed that the president’s policies were “moving the country toward socialism.” Twenty-four percent said it “is sometimes justified to use violence against the government.”

In recent months, Tea Party favorites have had remarkable successes in winning Republican nominations for public office. Rand Paul won a landslide victory over an establishment candidate for a Senate seat in Kentucky. At the Utah Republican convention, insufficiently conservative Sen. Robert Bennett was shut out of consideration for a fourth term. Tea Party-supported Mike Lee won the primary that followed.

Sharron Angle of Nevada won the primary to oppose Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. In South Carolina’s Republican primary, Nikki Haley rose from relative obscurity to win a smashing victory for governor. Although spending fairly little money, Paul LePage won a surprisingly large victory in Maine’s gubernatorial primary.

With about half of the states still to hold primaries, there may be more Tea Party victories or upsets.

But will Tea Party-backed nominees win in November? Early polls show that all of the nominees mentioned have significant leads.

Although poll results can turn 180 degrees overnight, I think that most of the Tea Party favorites will emerge victorious. A Democrat won’t win a statewide race in Utah until shortly before Haiti freezes over. With 2010 on track to be the hottest year on record, Hancock County may not freeze over.

Although Sharron Angle’s extremist statements could save Harry Reid, the Tea Party-backed nominees must be favored.

As the 2006 and 2008 elections showed, when voters are discontented they vote for change. Public discontent now is higher than in either of those elections. Few living Americans have experienced worse economic conditions. A hole in the Gulf of Mexico may be giving us a preview of how the world will end. The unpopular war in Afghanistan is going badly.

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings, a good indicator of how his party will do, have fallen below 50 percent. Public disapproval of Congress is higher than 70 percent. More than 60 percent of Americans think that the nation is on the wrong track. The fact that Republicans are much more enthusiastic than Democrats about the elections benefits the GOP.

So Tea Party victories probably will be a part of a good year for Republicans.

The Maine gubernatorial race could be a notable exception to a string of Tea Party victories. For decades, Maine voters have been ragingly moderate, sometimes tilting a bit to the left. And Maine politics often are highly unpredictable. In the summer of 1994, a respected columnist explained why a certain independent candidate for governor could not replicate James Longley’s 1974 victory. That independent was named Angus King. After both parties targeted closely contested Maine in 2004, John Kerry won the state by a greater margin than he did in states that no one had targeted.

If the 2010 elections do turn out as now expected, probably some will say that the Tea Party is the face of America’s political future.

That assertion would be absurd. As absurd as predictions after Ronald Reagan’s famous speech for Barry Goldwater in 1964 that Reagan himself would be elected president. Or as absurd as predictions five years ago that a newly elected senator from Illinois, who is African American, would win the presidency by the greatest margin of any first-term Democratic candidate since 1932.

Alan Ginsberg, a retired professor of history and government, lives in Corea.

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