Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
May 21, 2014
POLITICS: Does The Tea Party Need More Experienced Candidates?

Nathan Hale

This election season's primary results, in particular Mitch McConnell's lopsided trouncing yesterday of Matt Bevin, have produced their share of obituaries for the Tea Party. But the experience so far of Tea Party and other insurgent showdowns against the GOP establishment just goes to show that candidates and campaigns still matter - and that's not likely to change. While both "Establishment" and Tea Party campaigns have gotten savvier in learning how to play the primary game, we are likely for the foreseeable future to see Tea Party challengers win when they are good candidates, with some prior political experience, talent and funding - and lose when they lack one or more of those attributes. I'd like to look here in particular at the importance of political experience, and whether Tea Party campaigns has been losing races because it was running complete political novices.

As my analysis below shows, the answer to that question is not cut and dried - but on the whole, the Tea Party candidates with the staying power to win both a primary and general election have tended not to be people jumping into the political fray for the first time in their lives. As we'll see, political novices are most likely to win when they are business executives running for governor without an incumbent opponent, and candidates without prior elective experience are best suited to win when they have some family connection or other appointed entree into politics.

Experience isn't everything; Tea Party challenges have also failed for being underfunded and for having a crowded field that divided the anti-Establishment vote. But these and other aspects of successful campaigns - the ability to raise money, unite factions behind a single candidate, and avoid disabling gaffes - tend also to be byproducts of experience. The lesson is that activists who want to win statewide races behind Tea Party challengers to entrenched incumbents should begin by building a bench of Congressmen, state Attorneys General, state Treasurers, Secretaries of State and Comptrollers, state legislators, Mayors, district attorneys, and other intermediate rungs on the ladder to governorships and Senate seats.


For the analysis below, what I did was go through the list of Republican primary battles in Senate and Governor's races from 2010 through 2014, and isolate the races that can reasonably be classified as "Establishment" versus "Tea Party" races. Now, this involves a fair amount of generalization, and I show my work so you can draw your own conclusions. The Establishment, broadly speaking, refers to the official party committees (the RNC, NRSC, RGA and the state-level parties) and large organizations (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce, Karl Rove's group), but also to the constellation of donors, officeholders, and pundits that collectively tend to circle the wagons around party leadership and more moderate or less rock-the-boat candidates. Not every "Establishment" organ or figure has taken sides in each of these races, and each can argue for their own won-loss record, but it's usually not hard to tell who has the implicit or explicit backing of party bigwigs. The "Tea Party" is an even more amorphous collection of insurgent groups across a variety of issues, including the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and a host of smaller groups with "Tea Party" in the name (some of which are more legitimate than others, some of which are frankly scams on donors and candidates), social conservative groups, and individual figures like Jim DeMint, Sarah Palin, Mark Levin, and of course Erick Erickson. And again, different figures in this space have made different choices in different races. That said, it's still possible to see fairly sharp distinctions between the candidates who have "Establishment" backing and those who had to run against a headwind of opposition and rely on Tea Party support. I left off some races like the 2012 Ohio Senate race, where Josh Mandel had a lot of early Tea Party support but had no real Establishment opposition; ditto John Boozman's 2010 Senate campaign in Arkansas.

I also rated the candidates' experience on a 4-point scale - which again oversimplifies, but allows us to perform a quantitative comparison. I gave 3 points to incumbents and other candidates who had previously won a prior Senate, Governor or At-Large (i.e., statewide) House race; 2 to candidates who had won prior elections above the local level; 1 to candidates who had some political experience (appointed or local office, or working as a full-time activist or pundit) but nothing on the level of a Congressional or even state legislative race; and 0 to true political newcomers. Those ratings are listed under "TE#" and "EE#" and the difference between the Tea Party and Establishment candidate in a race listed under "Diff".

Let's walk through the races, grouped by outcome, and then sum up the findings at the end. Note also that in a few places I've listed a "win" that was delivered, not by primary voters, but by a party convention or by one side dropping out of the race.

Tea Party General Election Wins

15 races can be more or less classified as primary and general election Tea Party victories:

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2010NMGOVOpen DPete Domenici jr.Lawyer, son of Senator1Susanna Martinez4-term sitting county District Attorney2State party chair Allen Weh (Establishment R)-1
2010TXGOVIncumbent RKay Bailey Hutchison7-yr sitting Senator, 13 yrs in public office3Rick Perry10-yr sitting Governor, 19 yrs in statewide office, 25 in public office3Debra Medina, Truther0
2012NESENOpen DJon Bruning9-yr sitting State AG, 6 yrs state Senator2Deb Fischer8-yr sitting state legislator2Don Stenberg (Tea Party R, 1 yr sitting State Treasurer, 12 yrs State AG)0
2010WIGOVOpen DMark Neumann4-yr former Congressman2Scott Walker8-yr sitting County Executive, 10 yrs state assembly20
2010SCGOVOpen RGresham Barrett4-term sitting Congressman, former State legislator2Nikki Haley6-yr sitting State Legislator2Andre Bauer (Establishment R, 8-yr sitting Lt. Gov), Henry McMaster (Establishment R, 8-yr sitting State AG & former State party chair)0
2010MEGOVOpen DPeter Mills14-yr sitting State Senator, lost 2006 GOV primary2Paul LePage8-yr sitting Mayor2Les Otten, businessman0
2010PASENIncumbent RArlen SpecterIncumbent Senator3Pat Toomey3-term Congressman, head of Club for Growth21
2010FLSENOpen DCharlie CristSitting Governor3Marco Rubio10 yrs as state legislator; Majority Leader, Speaker of FL House21
2010NVGOVIncumbent RJim Gibbons1-term sitting Governor, 10 yr former Congressman3Brian Sandoval4-yr sitting federal judge, 1-term former State AG, also state legislator, Gaming Commission21
2012TXSENOpen RDavid Dewhurst10-yr sitting Lt. Governor2Ted CruzState Solicitor General, 6 yrs11
2010KYSENOpen RTrey Grayson2-term KY Secretary of State2Rand PaulOpthamologist; involved in father's POTUS campaigns11
2010WISENIncumbent DDick LeinenkugelState Secretary of Commerce under Democrat governor1Ron JohnsonBusinessman0David Westlake (Tea Party R, businessman)1
2010UTSENIncumbent RBob BennettIncumbent Senator3Mike Lee1 yr, General Counsel to Governor; Asst US Atty; son of US Solicitor General12
2010MIGOVOpen DPete Hoekstra9-term Congressman2Rick SnyderBusinessman0Mike Cox (Conservative AG), Mike Bouchard (Tea Party R, County Sheriff)2
2010FLGOVOpen RBill McCollum20 yrs in House, 2 prior failed Senate runs (lost general, primary)3Rick ScottBusinessman03

As you can see, this is a heterogenous group. Not all are conservatives - Rand Paul is a libertarian, Martinez a moderate, and Sandoval basically a libertarian (Sandoval ran a populist outsider campaign against a corrupt incumbent; Martinez mostly made her peace with the political establishment of New Mexico after Pete Domenici's son's campaign flamed out, although her chief primary opponent had served as chairman of the state party from 2004-09). Not all are political outsiders; Rick Perry had been in office forever, but ended up beating back a primary challenge backed by DC-based moderate and establishment figures by forging an alliance between Austin insiders and Texas Tea Partiers. Not all were even the first choice of national Tea Party groups - Deb Fischer won on the strength of Tea Party-oriented voter support, but the national groups had backed Don Stenberg. Others, like Haley, Rubio, Toomey, Paul and Cruz faced open and fierce opposition from the political establishment both nationally and in their respective states.

Of the six candidates listed here who had never won major office before, two were second-generation national political figures (Paul and Lee), and one (Cruz) had served in a prominent and controversial government office (he was appointed Texas Solicitor General by Greg Abbott). Rick Scott and Rick Snyder were both business executives running for open-seat Governorships, a job voters have been traditionally more willing to entrust to business leaders based on a showing of executive competence. That leaves only Ron Johnson - and after Leinenkugel (whose Establishment credentials were somewhat flimsy anyway) dropped out of the race, Johnson's only primary opposition was other Tea Party novices. That doesn't diminish the impressiveness of Johnson's general election win against an entrenched incumbent blue-state Senator (Russ Feingold) with a national reputation and no major scandal baggage, but it highlights what a rarity his victory was.

Establishment General Election Wins

12 races can be classified as Establishment general election wins after defeating a Tea Party challenge; 11 of those were Establishment primary wins, plus the 2010 Alaska Senate race in which the Establishment candidate (Lisa Murkowski) lost the primary to a Tea Party challenger (Joe Miller) but refused to accept the verdict of the primary voters, ran third-party in the general, and won.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2009NJGOVIncumbent DChris ChristieFormer US Atty (6 yrs), County Freeholder (2 yrs)1Steve LoneganFormer 12 yr Mayor2-1
2010KSSENOpen RPat Moran7-term sitting Congressman2Todd Tiahrt8-term sitting Congressman20
2010TNGOVOpen DBill Haslam8-year sitting Mayor2Ron Ramsey Tea Party R, 4-yr sitting Lt Gov & 17-yr state legislator2Zach Wamp (Tea Party-leaning 8-term sitting Congressman)0
2010GAGOVOpen RNathan Deal9-term sitting Congressman, former 12-yr State Legislator2Karen Handel4-yr sitting Secretary of State; former Chair of County Bd of Commissioners2John Oxendine (Insurance Commissioner), Eric Johnson (State Senator)0
2010OKGOVOpen DMary Fallin2-term sitting Congresswoman, 12 yr former Lt Gov, former State Rep2Randy Brogdon8-yr sitting State Senator20
2010PAGOVOpen DTom Corbett6-yr sitting State AG; previously AG & US Atty2Sam RohrerSitting 18-yr State Rep20
2012UTSENIncumbent ROrrin Hatch6-term sitting Senator3Dan Liljenquist2-yr sitting State Senator21
2010AZSENIncumbent RJohn McCain4-term Incumbent Senator, former POTUS nominee3JD HayworthFormer 6-term Congressman21
2010INSENOpen RDan CoatsFormer 10-yr Senator, also Ambassador & Congressman3Marlin StutzmanState Senator, 8 yrs in state Sen/House2John Hostettler (conservative former 6-term Congressman)1
2010NHSENOpen RKelly Ayotte5-year recent State AG2Ovid Lamontagne1996 GOV nominee, 3 yrs on State Bd of Ed1Bill Binney (moderate businessman)1
2010AKSENIncumbent RLisa MurkowskiIncumbent Senator3Joe MillerPart-time state judge and acting US Magistrate Judge, lost 2004 House race12
2010IAGOVIncumbent DTerry BranstadFormer 4-term GOV, also Lt Gov & State Legislator3Bob Vander PlaatsSocial conservative activist, 2006 Lt Gov nominee, 2002 candidate for GOV nomination12

Interestingly, unlike the 2014 primary battles, not one of these races involved a Tea Party candidate new to politics, although Miller, Lamontagne and Vander Plaats had never won any office of note, and Miller's inexperience was exposed in the general election. And Chris Christie actually beat a more experienced candidate in Steve Lonegan - but then, we know by now that Christie is an exceptionally talented politician. Several of these races simply came down to the better candidate winning, with an assist from some incumbents shifting their voting patterns in the run-up to the primary. J.D. Hayworth might have exploited voter frustration with McCain, but failed to get traction because Hayworth is a clown, and an ethically challenged clown at that. Liljenquist is a promising candidate, but was little-known, and Orrin Hatch was regarded as a conservative hero for the first two decades or so of his tenure in the Senate, a status that (combined with his deep roots in Utah politics) doesn't wear off overnight; he was never the sort of burr in the saddle that Lugar or Specter had been. Stutzman lost in large part because the Right was divided between him and Hostettler; Haslam won for similar reasons.

Tea Party Primary Wins & General Election Losses

10 races can be classified as Tea Party primary victories that went down to defeat in the fall. These are the most controversial races, since we are frequently told (often without a fair understanding of the facts of the particular races or the flaws of the Establishment candidates) that the Tea Party cost Republicans these races.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2013VAGOVOpen RBill BollingSitting Lt Gov (7 yrs), former State Senator (9 yrs)2Ken CuccinelliSitting State AG (3 yrs), former State Senator (8 yrs)20
2010NVSENIncumbent DSue Lowden4 yrs as State Senator, majority whip until defeated 1996. Chair of State GOP.2Sharron Angle8 years in state assembly; had run for Congress, lost primary2Danny Tarkanian (Tea Party R, lost statewide races for Senate, Sec. of State)0
2010COSENIncumbent DJane Norton4-yr former Lt Gov; former State Rep, worked in HHS & several state agencies2Ken Buck6-yr sitting county D.A.; former AUSA20
2012INSENIncumbent RRichard Lugar6-term sitting Senator3Richard Mourdock6-yr sitting State Treasurer21
2012NYSENIncumbent DBob Turner1-term sitting Congressman2Wendy LongActivist1George Maragos (Businessman, 2 yr sitting County Comptroller)1
2012MDSENIncumbent DRichard Douglas3 yr former Deputy Asst Secretary of Defense, Senate staffer, businessman1Dan BonginoSecret Service agent01
2010ORGOVOpen DAllen AlleyBusinessman, 2008 nominee for State Treasurer, worked for outgoing D GOV1Chris DudleyBusinessman, NBA veteran0John Lim (18 yr State legislator, 1998 SEN nominee)1
2010DESENOpen DMike CastleSitting 9-term Congressman & former 2-term Governor.3Christine O'DonnellNational TV pundit12
2010COGOVOpen DScott McInnisEstablishment R, 6-term Congressman2Dan MaesBusinessman0Tom Tancredo (Tea Party R, Former 5-term Congressman, fringe POTUS candidate in 2008)2
2010NYGOVOpen DRick Lazio8 yr former Congressman, 2000 SEN nominee2Carl PaladinoBusinessman02

You will notice right away that less than half of these candidates were experienced politicians, and three of those four - Cuccinelli, Angle, and Buck - all lost very close races in which they won independent voters, in Buck's case by a double-digit margin. I won't rehash those races here, as Sean Trende and Dave Weigel recount the relevant history, except to note that (1) we forget how much damage some of the Establishment candidates did to themselves and (2) there was really nothing in Mourdock's history to suggest the problems that would blow up in his face after a bad debate answer that went national due to the fallout from Todd Akin. Dudley also lost a tight race, featuring possibly the most extreme gender gap on record (he won male voters in Oregon 60-36, but lost female voters 62-36). On the other hand, Long and Bongino were running essentially unwinnable races from the start.

Clearly, O'Donnell, Maes and Paladino were candidates who suffered from a combination of (1) political inexperience and (2) flaws that would have been better-known to the primary electorate if they'd run before.

Establishment Primary Wins & General Election Losses

Set against the 10 Tea Party losses are these 14 races in which an Establishment candidate beat back a Tea Party challenger and went on to lose in the fall. As with the prior group, not all of the losing Tea Party candidates would actually have been viable in the general election, but in either event the interesting question is why they lost when they lost, in this case in the primary.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2010CAGOVOpen RMeg WhitmanBusinesswoman0Steve Poizner4-yr sitting Insurance Commissioner2-2
2012PASENIncumbent DTom SmithServed in local govt as a Democrat1Sam RohrerFormer 18-yr State Rep, lost 2010 GOV primary, former state director for AFP2Steve Welch (Businessman, Establishment R); David Christian (soldier, businessman, 2-time losing House candidate, TV pundit)-1
2010CASENIncumbent DCarly FiorinaBusinesswoman, former McCain campaign spokeswoman1Chuck De Vore6-yr sitting State Assemblyman2Tom Campbell (Establishment R, 9 yrs in House, 3 in State Leg)-1
2012FLSENIncumbent DConnie Mack IV4-term sitting Congressman, former State Rep2Adam Hasner8-yr former State Rep, former Majority Leader2Dave Weldon (Establishment R, former 7-term Congressman); Mike McCalister (soldier); Mike Haridopolos (Tea Party R, 12 yr sitting State Sen/Rep)0
2010ILGOVIncumbent DBill BradySitting State Senator, 18 yrs as State Sen/Rep. Lost 2006 race for GOV nomination.2Kirk Dillard16-yr sitting State Senator2Adam Andrzejewski (Tea Party R), Jim Ryan (Establishment R, former State AG), Andy McKenna (Establishment R, former State party chair, ran for 2004 Senate nomination)0
2012NMSENOpen RHeather WilsonFormer 10-yr Congresswoman, lost 2008 SEN primary2Greg SowardsBusinessman, lost 2008 Congressional primary11
2012MISENIncumbent DPete Hoekstra10-term Congressman2Clark Durant4 yrs as President of State Bd of Ed11
2010NYSENIncumbent DJoe DioGuardiFormer 2-term Congressman, out of office 12 years2David MalpassEconomist, economic pundit, advisor to Congressional panels1Bruce Blakeman (former county legislator, 1998 state comptroller nominee)1
2012NDSENOpen DRick Berg1-term sitting At Large Congressman, former State House Majority Leader3Duane SandActivist, soldier, lost 2000 Senate, 2004 & 2008 At Large House races12
2012WISENOpen DTommy ThompsonFormer 3-term GOV, 4 yrs HHS Secretary3Eric HovdeBusinessman, former HUD undersecretary1Mark Neumann (Establishment R, 4 yr former Congressman)2
2012VASENOpen DGeorge AllenFormer 1-term Senator, Governor, Congressman3Jamie RadtkeActivist12
2012MESENOpen RCharlie Summers2 yrs as Secretary of State, 4 as state legislator, 3 failed House races2Andrew Ian DodgeWorked in UK at conservative think tank0Bruce Poliquin, Richard Bennett, both modestly experienced in elected office2
2010WASENIncumbent DDino RossiFormer State Senator (6 yrs), lost 2004 & 2008 GOV races2Clint DidierNFL veteran02
2012MTSENIncumbent DDenny Rehberg6-term sitting At Large Congressman, former 6 yr Lt Gov, lost 1996 Senate race3Dennis TeskeFarmer03

Rehberg and Berg were two of the biggest general-election failures in recent memory in spite of being experienced candidates, but both had overcome opponents who simply were not experienced enough to mount a credible primary challenge. Jamie Radtke was something of a disaster of a candidate, yet another example of leaving voters without a real alternative to a flawed but veteran Establishment candidate (Allen). Mack had the field cleared for him after both Hasner and Haridopolos dropped out. At the other end of the scale, California primary voters chose the less-experienced candidates in 2010 and got nowhere with them.

Primaries Lost By Both Establishment & Tea Party

A few of the contested primaries of recent years defy even rough classification, because both sides started the primary process by backing a candidate, and both sides lost to a candidate who defied the Establishment/Tea Party divide.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#WinnerDiff
2012MOSENIncumbent DJohn BrunnerBusinessman0Sarah Steelman4 yr former State Treasurer, 4 yr former State Sen2Todd Akin (Six-term Congressman; state legislator for 12 years; social conservative)-2
2010CTSENOpen DRob Simmons6 yr former Congressman, 10 yr former State Rep2Peter SchiffBusinessman0Linda McMahon, businesswoman2

The Akin race is maybe the most notorious of all, but there was a clear Establishment-backed candidate (Brunner had the support of the powerful Blunt family and its allies), while the Tea Party movement and Sarah Palin backed Steelman; neither side wanted Akin, who was seen as too hardline socially for the Establishment but too establishment-minded economically for the Tea Party. But Akin had something his opponents didn't: he'd been winning elections since 1989. (He also had the Democrats shrewdly spending money to attack his opponents). He ended up winning a race that was close to a 3-way dead heat. As both Trende and Weigel note, Akin was not a Tea Party creation so much as a result of the two sides dividing the opposition.

Linda McMahon's two Senate races also defy the categories. In 2010, the NRSC had recruited former Congressman Rob Simmons into the race, while Tea Partiers were backing Schiff; McMahon, a self-funding moderate from the most populist of businesses (pro wrestling), muscled in and beat both. By 2012, McMahon had made more of her peace with the Establishment, and her primary opponent (Chris Shays) had spent two decades as one of the most liberal Republicans in the House, so Connecticut's Tea Partiers had no real choice.

2014 Tea Party Primary Wins

So far, 2014 has produced only two Tea Party wins in statewide primary races, both in Nebraska.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2014NESENOpen RShane OsbornFormer 4-yr State Treasurer2Ben SasseUniversity President, 2-yr HHS asst Secretary1Sid Dinsdale (Establishment R, businessman)1
2014NEGOVOpen RJon Bruning11-yr sitting State AG, 6 yrs state Senator2Pete RickettsBusinessman; lost 2006 SEN race11

Nebraska's been the one bright spot for the Tea Party this season, and the efforts of the Establishment to downplay its attempts to stop him (many of which had more to do with ire at the Senate Conservatives Fund than Sasse) are a tribute to the bandwagon effect of victory. Sasse is a talented candidate who raised a boatload of money, and his main opponent (Osborn) self-destructed; given the deep-red status of Nebraska, Sasse maybe the unusual outsider candidate to win a Senate race, and even he spent some years in DC working for the Bush Administration.

2014 Establishment Primary Wins

The larger number of Establishment victories this season has fueled the "Tea Party is dead" narrative. Certainly it illustrates the growing sophistication of the Establishment campaigns (especially incumbents) in spotting Tea Party challenges early and working to close them off. It also illustrates the number of races in which a low-quality, poorly-funded Tea Party primary challenge will be mounted against incumbents who in years past would simply have run unopposed.

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2014ORSENIncumbent DMonica WehbyDoctor0Jason Conger4-yr sitting State Rep2-2
2014GASENOpen RDavid PerdueBusinessman0Karen HandelFormer 4-yr Secretary of State; former Chair of County Bd of Commissioners; 2010 candidate for GOV nomination2Jack Kingston, Paul Broun, Phil Gingrey, all veteran Congressmen. Broun is Tea Party, Kingston Establishment-2
2014ILGOVIncumbent DBruce RaunerBusinessman0Kirk Dillard20-yr sitting State Senator, lost 2010 primary2Bill Brady (2010 nominee)-2
2014COSENIncumbent DCory Gardner2-term sitting Congressman, former 6 yr State Rep2Ken Buck10-yr sitting county D.A.; former AUSA; lost 2010 SEN race2Amy Stephens (Establishment R, State Rep), Owen Hill (Tea Party R, State Senator)0
2014TXSENIncumbent RJohn Cornyn2-term sitting Senator, former State AG & State Supreme Court Justice3Steve Stockman1-term sitting Congressman; served 1 prior term, ran several other times21
2014ARGOVOpen DAsa HutchinsonFormer 2-term Congressman, former DEA head (2 yrs), lost 2006 GOV race2Curtis ColemanBusinessman; finished fifth in 2010 primary11
2014WYSENIncumbent RMike Enzi3-term sitting Senator3Liz CheneyFormer State Department official, daughter of VP12
2014NCSENIncumbent DThom Tillis8-yr sitting State Rep, Speaker of State House2Greg BrannonDoctor0Mark Harris (Tea Party R, minister)2
2014KYSENIncumbent RMitch McConnellIncumbent Senator; Senate Minority Leader3Matt BevinBusinessman03

Hutchinson's challenger wasn't a serious threat, and Rauner won in large part because he not only had money but the good fortune to face the same group of candidates who lost the same race to the same opponent in 2010. Liz Cheney, while a fine candidate in the abstract, is really a foreign policy Establishment figure at heart, and was miscast as a Tea Partier. Gardner, of course, will take his nomination by acclimation, as Buck graciously and wisely shifted into a House race to make room, but that Senate race had previously been a dogfight. Wehby is the unusual political neophyte to win as the Establishment-backed candidate, but she had the great advantage of running as a single-issue anti-Obamacare candidate whose opponent, Conger, cast a vote for the disastrous and now defunct Cover Oregon health exchange.

But the Kentucky and North Carolina races were the clearest examples of the Tea Party running political rookies. Bevin, Brannon and Harris all had their virtues, but they got buried in fundraising, Brannon's mouth and rookie mistake in failing to settle a business dispute, and the inability in North Carolina to unite behind either Brannon or Harris were all fatal.


So, when you add up all the categories of races, what does that tell us? First, let's look at the overall won-loss record for Tea Party candidates, grouped by their experience level:


And here is how Tea Party campaigns matched up when you rank them by the differential in experience:

Tea PartyPWPLPW%

As you can see, the Tea Party may actually have its best primary winning percentage running complete novices, but by far its best general election showings have come behind more experienced candidates, and the bulk of its wins are in races where the Tea Party candidate was not significantly less experienced than the Establishment candidate. And it has actually floundered when there isn't a veteran primary opponent who can be the target of anti-incumbent, anti-Washington ire.

Now, let's apply the same two analyses to Establishment candidates, with the second chart being mostly a mirror image of the first (not quite; for example, I didn't include the 2014 Georgia Senate race since we don't yet know whether to credit Perdue or Kingston as the victor):




Unsurprisingly, the general election success of Establishment campaigns has been directly proportionate to the experience of the candidates.

Remaining 2014 Tea Party v Establishment Primary Battles

YrStJobStatusEstablishmentExperienceEE#Tea PartyExperienceTE#Other RsDiff
2014MNSENIncumbent DMike McFaddenBusinessman0Julianne OrtmanSitting State Senator (12 yrs), Deputy Majority Leader2Jim Abeler (15-yr State Rep, moderate/libertarian)-2
2014NHSENIncumbent DScott BrownFormer 1-term MA Senator3Bob SmithFormer 2-term Senator, 2-term Congressman, ran for 2004 & 2010 Florida SEN nominations & 2000 POTUS candidate3Several0
2014OKSENOpen RJames Lankford2-term sitting Congressman2T.W. Shannon8-yr sitting State Rep, Speaker of State House20
2014COGOVIncumbent DScott GesslerSitting 1-term Secretary of State2Tom TancredoFormer 5-term Congressman, fringe POTUS candidate in 20082Bob Beauprez (former 2-term Congressman, lost 2006 GOV race), Mike Kopp (former 4-yr State Senator, Minority Leader); both fairly conservative0
2014AKSENIncumbent DDan SullivanSitting Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, former 1-yr State AG, former State Dept official1Joe MillerPart-time state judge and acting US Magistrate Judge, lost 2010 Senate race, 2004 House race1Mead Treadwell (Establishment R, sitting Lt Gov)0
2014NMSENIncumbent DAllen WehFormer State Party Chair1David ClementsAssistant D.A., county party chair10
2014MSSENIncumbent RThad Cochran6-term sitting Senator3Chris McDaniel6-yr sitting State Senator21
2014TNSENIncumbent RLamar Alexander2-term sitting Senator, former 2-term GOV & Secretary of Education, 1996 POTUS candidate3Joe Carr6-yr sitting State Rep21
2014SDSENOpen DMike RoundsFormer 2-term GOV, former 10 yr State Senator3Larry Rhoden6-yr sitting State Senator, Majority Whip2Stace Nelson (Tea Party R, 4 yr sitting State Rep)1
2014WYGOVIncumbent RMatt MeadSitting 1-term incumbent GOV, former 7 yr US Attorney3Cindy Hill4 yr State Superintendent of Public Instruction (elected)21
2014LASENIncumbent DBill CassidySitting 3-term Congressman, former State Senator2Rob ManessSoldier02
2014KSSENIncumbent RPat RobertsSitting 3-term Senator, former 8-term Congressman3Milton WolfDoctor03
2014SCSENIncumbent RLindsay Graham2-term sitting Senator, former 4-term Congressman3Det BowersMinister0Lee Bright (6yr sitting State Senator)3

There are other races as well, although the lines of division are harder as of yet to detail in the Iowa Senate race (where two-term state legislator Joni Ernst, backed by Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin, is trying to unite the two factions against a number of opponents with no electoral experience) and the Arizona Governor's race (in which most of the crowded field is running to the right). The Rhode Island Governor's race is a two-man fight, but "Moderate Party" candidate Ken Block has actually been trying to run a more populist campaign than Cranston Mayor Allan Fung. Some of the races listed above are really just token opponents, and others don't fit that neatly in the Tea Party/Establishment dichotomy.

But in evaluating their odds, it's unavoidable that Wolf, Maness and Bowers have a tall hill to climb as political newcomers, two of them challenging incumbent Senators; Miller has an even taller one as a general election failure, albeit one who probably would have won in 2010 if Murkowski hadn't run as an independent. That's why conservatives are more excited about McDaniel, who's a more experienced politician, and Shannon.

The most important decision in any election is who runs, and who doesn't. Tea Partiers may occasionally find a diamond in the rough, but their desire to celebrate the citizen-politician shouldn't obscure the fact that politics is a craft, and people who have practiced it for some time are more likely to have gotten good at it.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 4:00 PM | Politics 2014 | Comments (5)

You began this exercise with a flawed premise.

The Tea Party is the Republican Party. There's not a lick of difference between them. They just changed their name after the Bush / Cheney Administration turned the Republican brand name toxic.

Posted by: Berto at May 21, 2014 5:14 PM

That's a lot of work, but I frankly don't see any particular story here. I don't know how you can say that the Tea Party does better if it runs experienced candidates when, in the races where it had a more experienced candidate, it had one win and 8 losses.

Posted by: A.S. at May 21, 2014 5:57 PM

The GOP can crow all they want, but they better realize that without the Tea Party, there is not a race in the country they can win.

Posted by: maddirishman at May 22, 2014 8:53 PM

The Tea Party is an idea. Along with Rick Santelli who first articulated the notion, I agree with the premise of responsibility in government. Tens of millions of Americans do too, as was noted in public polling taken at the time rallies were held all over the country.

Various groups of people have tried to seize the idea and take the name. Other people have smeared the idea and tried to apply the name to anyone they found disagreeable. Neither have any claim on the essence of the Tea Party or the political ideas which provide the motivation underlying those rallies.

Anyone who treats the "Tea Party" as if it is some kind of formal political party or even a discernible faction within a party is completely missing the significance.

Posted by: stan at May 25, 2014 1:15 PM

"Along with Rick Santelli who first articulated the notion, I agree with the premise of responsibility in government. "

Scratch a Tea Party member, and find someone who has no need to discuss contractor fraud and waste in the Iraq War.
Making believe the Tea Party is anything other than "Bush's base" is a waste of time.

BTW, Rick Santelli's rant was against the idea of the government helping American home-owners.

Posted by: Berto at May 27, 2014 11:00 AM
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