Beyond the Tea Party: The Old Dogs of the Republican Party, and How They Will Determine the Course of Congress

By Branden Lewiston, Tory

The narrative for the 2010 mid-term elections seems to revolve around the Tea Party. If you are not convinced, merely look at the recent edition of the Tory and the Princeton Progressive Nation: PPN’s cover-story was about the Tea Party, one of the Tory’s main articles was about the origins of the Tea Party, and the one of the two races analyzed in-depth featured Tea Party darling Sharron Angle (facing off against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in Nevada). All three articles were persuasive and indeed do highlight the importance of the Tea Party; however, in order to truly understand this mid-term cycle, it is necessary to extend our analysis beyond the Tea Party as well.

The flip-side of this election cycle are the dozens of races featuring establishment Republicans running old-fashioned campaigns, while simultaneously capitalizing on an anti-incumbent attitude. In many ways, the results of these races will be equally if not more important than the results of Tea Party races for the future course of our states and nation.

While the Tea Partiers may represent a greater break with the status quo, they may lack the political experience necessary to effectively wield with their new-found power.  Establishment Republicans re-seeking office, or seeking higher office, on the other hand, have the experience to wheel-and-deal in Congress enough to more successfully implement the Republican agenda, or at least resist the Democrat’s agenda.

Just a quick glance at the biggest races in the Midwest demonstrates how powerful this counter-narrative to the election truly is. In Ohio, Democratic incumbent Ted Stickland, is now trailing Republican John Kasich, after Strickland had a record-setting landslide victory in 2006. Yet Kasich is no political novice swept along by the waves of the Tea Party. Instead, he is a 9-term veteran of the House and former chair of the House Budget Committee.

A similar situation is repeated in the Illinois Senate race, where 5-term Congressman Mark Kirk (R) has a narrow lead over Alexi Giannoulias (D), and Indiana, where former US Senator Dan Coats (R) has a double-digit lead against Brad Ellsworth (D).  Like Kasich, neither Coats nor Kirk are beholden to the Tea Party, but both have legislative experience galore.

The significance of these races is hard to overstate. Regardless of whether the Republicans win majorities in Congress, they will certainly have many more seats after this mid-term than before it. With that said, the question is how successful will they be in using this new influence, and that will be determined not by the results of attention-grabbing Tea Party races, but instead races that involve experienced, establishment Republicans.

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