The Myth of the Lousy Tea Party Candidate

The Myth of the Lousy Tea Party Candidate

The Myth of the Lousy Tea Party Candidate

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 22 2010 9:20 AM

The Myth of the Lousy Tea Party Candidate

Brendan Nyhan drops some actual political science and discovers that the Tea Party-powered GOP has actually produced more, not fewer, experienced candidates than the GOP of previous years.

[W]hile it's true that Tea Party candidates are less likely to have previously held elected office in more contested races, the differences are smaller than one might think -- 48% of non-TP challengers in competitive districts (25 of 52) versus 33% of TP challengers in competitive districts (18 of 54) and 53% of non-TP open seat candidates (15 of 28) versus 43% of TP open seat candidates (6 of 14).

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In short, the Tea Party movement has affiliated itself with a surprising number of non-amateur politicians in competitive and open-seat races. As a result, the GOP still has a candidate quality advantage in the House races that matter most.

If this is surprising, a lot of that has to do with 1) a weird occasional media focus on noncompetitive races and 2) the ability of some smart politicians to brand themselves as "Tea Party" candidates. Marco Rubio, for example, could have run in a previous year as a savvy politician mentored by Jeb Bush. Instead, he introduced himself as the Tea Party in one man. Same happened with Ken Buck, a seasoned local politician who simply defined himself against a politician who'd held a higher office.

As to that first issue, I'm continually surprised that fringe candidates like Ohio's Richard Iott get so much attention; his penchant for dressing up as a Nazi is, of course, weird and stupid, but he never had a chance of winning. I'd add a bit to Nyhan's model, because the Tea Party has swung behind some first-time candidates in House races, mostly businessmen, who are going to win where token candidates used to lose.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.