Bennet Wins, Murkowski Leads, and the flaw of the "Tea Party Cost GOP the Senate" Meme

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Nov. 3 2010 9:26 AM

Bennet Wins, Murkowski Leads, and the flaw of the "Tea Party Cost GOP the Senate" Meme

LAS VEGAS -- The Denver Post has made its call on what seems readily apparent: Michael Bennet will win most of the remaining votes in Colorado's U.S. Senate race and keep his seat. In Alaska, the vote for write-in candidates has exceeded the vote for Joe Miller now by a sizable margin, around 13,000 out of 199,701 total votes. What happens now in that state is a long count, with Murkowski presumed by us corrupt bastards in the media as the winner. If Murkowski does win the count, there'll be a determination by Miller's team on whether to challenge the write-in votes that don't exactly say "Lisa Murkowski."

And so here comes the meta-narrative : "Did the Tea Party cost the GOP control of the Senate?" The facts: Left to their own devices, Republicans would have had less conservative candidates in Nevada, Colorado, and Delaware. They would have had no race at all in Alaska, which would have freed up some money -- not much -- for other races. And so theoretically we would be looking today at Democrats holding only 49 Senate seats with control of the body resting on the result in Washington state.

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That's theoretical, though, and it 1) doesn't give the Tea Party credit for everything it did in House races, which is still being calculated, and 2) doesn't appreciate the ideological message sent by these races. The GOP now has a powerful bloc, with  ready money from the Club for Growth and Tea Party Express, that can and will destroy any "Republican in Name Only" with the full knowledge that it could be handing the seat to Democrats. This ripples far beyond the races the Tea Party wins. As Will Bunch likes to point out, the biggest Tea Party win might have been Arizona, where the movement pushed John McCain right. The threat of a primary in 2012 is going to have a serious impact on Olympia Snowe's decision making, because she's seen that even obviously doomed candidates in blue states, like Christine O'Donnell, can win primaries.

So, yes, Michael Bennet won. But the Tea Party made it clear that you cannot back a tax hike, as Jane Norton once did in Colorado, and expect to ever win a primary, as Buck eventually did over Norton. And what instrument do Democrats have to enforce ideological consistency like that?

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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