Tea Party primary wins give Dems hope for November

Candidates endorsed by the Tea Party movement are racking up wins in the primary season but have left some Republicans wary about whether these “outsider” candidates can win in November's general election.

Democrats on Tuesday were jubilant about the surprise results of Florida's Republican primary for governor. Former health insurance CEO Rick Scott handily defeated GOP establishment candidate Bill McCollum, 46 percent to 43 percent, leaving shellshocked Republican officials struggling to throw their support behind a Tea Party-backed candidate they spent months trying to defeat. Further complicating Scott's general election bid are the Medicare fraud charges incurred by a hospital chain he ran, which resulted in a $1.7 billion fine shortly after he left the company.

“FL Republicans nominate for Governor a corrupt health care CEO that defrauded taxpayers,” Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee wrote on his Facebook page, according to the blog Blue Virginia. “Thank you Tea Party!”

Republicans were also stunned by the outcome of Alaska's Senate GOP primary, where two-term incumbent Lisa Murkowski on Wednesday trailed Tea Party candidate Joe Miller by 2,000 votes.

Sarah Palin endorsed both candidates, which many believe played a big role in their upset victories, but her ability to help may be limited in the general election.

In Florida, for instance, the latest polling shows Scott trailing Democratic candidate Alex Sink by about four percentage points. The same poll, by Quinnipiac University, showed McCollum just two points behind Sink.

Tea Party candidates are also struggling in Nevada and Kentucky. Rand Paul, who beat the Republican Party's candidate in the GOP Senate primary, has watched his lead over the Democratic candidate shrink since the May 18 primary, though he still leads.

In the Silver State, top political strategists believe Tea Party candidate and Palin favorite Sharron Angle will lose to incumbent Harry Reid, the Senate Majority leader, even though just months ago Reid trailed in the polls by double digits.

Like Paul, Angle may have turned off some general election voters with outside-the-mainstream views about Social Security, civil rights and other issues.

The benefits of being an outsider candidate “cuts both ways, depending on location,” GOP strategist Alex Vogel told The Washington Examiner. “I'm not going to argue too hard with my Democratic colleagues with the issue in Nevada. Ms. Angle may not have been our strongest candidate there.”

But Vogel and other GOP strategists believe Tea Party favorites will have the upper hand in Kentucky and Alaska and even in Florida, where election results showed far greater turnout among Republican voters than Democratic voters.

“I will take my chances with a highly motivated, activist base any day against a depressed base that can't get out the vote,” Vogel said.

Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican who represents the state's panhandle, said he believes Scott can beat Sink.

“His message of implementing strong, conservative economic policies for our state has resonated across party lines,” Gaetz said. “In Florida, this is a kitchen table election. This is about whether mom and dad are going to get a pay cut or a better job.”

Quinnipiac pollster Brown said Scott may have a hard time winning without the full backing of the mainstream Florida GOP that rejected him.

“The question for Scott is, will the Republican Party close ranks around him?” Brown said.

sferrechio@dcexaminer.com

Susan Ferrechio, The Examiner's chief congressional correspondent

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