Tea Party activists helped Republicans win a landslide in the 2010 midterm elections, but they are already unhappy. Less than a year into the new Congress, they see a string of broken promises: the debt ceiling raised, insufficient spending cuts and politics being conducted behind closed doors. “The Republican leadership came in with promises that didn’t happen,” says Dawn Wildman, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots. “They are doing backroom deals, not putting up bills online for seventy-two hours before voting on them, and not keeping other promises.”
Wildman is in regular contact with state and local Tea Party activists and she says they are displeased with their local Republican incumbents and open to backing primary challenges against them virtually everywhere. “There’s not one state saying ‘we just love our guys and want to keep them forever,’ ” says Wildman. “People are not willing to hold their nose to vote any more.”
Some Republicans, though, may be given a pass by the DC-based conservative organizations that often partner with the Tea Parties. For instance FreedomWorks, Dick Armey’s fiscally conservative group, takes a more pragmatic approach to politics. They intend to back right-wing challengers to senators in conservative states where the Republican primary essentially anoints the general election victor. But in Massachusetts, thus far, they are giving a pass to Republican Senator Scott Brown for his numerous heresies. “What you can get in Massachusetts is different than in Utah,” says Matt Kibbe, executive director of FreedomWorks. “I don’t see a better alternative to Scott Brown at this point.”
Wildman calls that view “incredibly short-sighted.” She says that Tea Party activists in Massachusetts “couldn’t wait to see Scott Brown gone. They’re more concerned with his RINO [Republican In Name Only] status than taking a Democratic seat. From outside we say that’s about the best you’re going to get, but on the inside there’s no compromise.”
Even so, there are plenty of states that grassroots Tea Partyers and national organizations like FreedomWorks will work together on, even if they haven’t yet found a candidate. Here are four Senate races to watch for Tea Party insurgencies.
Utah: “We’re going after Orrin Hatch,” says Kibbe. “We’re going to replace him with someone better.” Hatch, like his former Senate colleague from Utah Bob Bennett, has a fairly conservative, if establishment-friendly, track record. But Tea Party activists took over the Utah Republican convention in 2010 and booted Bennett off the primary ballot, thus ending his career. Hatch, like Bennett, voted for the TARP bailouts and showed a willingness, later abandoned, to work with Democrats on healthcare reform. “[Hatch’s] record looks like Senator Bennett’s,” says Kibbe. “Pro-spending, he supported virtually every bailout that’s been on the table, the individual mandate.”
But the thing that most sticks in the craw of Tea Party activists is that Hatch worked with Ted Kennedy to create the S-CHIP program, which gives health insurance to children from uninsured families that do not qualify for Medicaid.