- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 14, 2010

With less than three weeks before Election Day, the “tea party” remains the key unknown for both parties, with Democrats saying the movement will cost the GOP seats and Republicans saying it’s part of an anti-establishment sentiment that will power them to majorities in one or both chambers of Congress.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine on Thursday said his party could hold or win a handful of Senate seats they thought were lost to them months ago, but where the Republican nominee is a tea party-powered candidate.

The list is topped by Delaware’s race, where Republican Christine O’Donnell’s primary victory left Democrat Chris Coons with a wide lead in the polls. Mr. Kaine said the slate extends to Kentucky and Nevada, as well as Alaska, where a tea party-backed Republican defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a primary.

“We take all these races seriously … but there were races where we felt we had virtually no chance of winning six months ago and that we feel like we have very legit chances to win now,” Mr. Kaine told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

But former Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, who ran House Republicans’ campaign committee for two cycles while representing Northern Virginia, said the tea parties are an indication of deep discontent with the Washington establishment in both parties, and he said that’s going to lead to broad Democratic losses this year.

“The voters took their shot at Republicans in 2006, at [President George W.] Bush, and in 2008, and now they’re still very upset. Things have gotten worse, not better. These tea party candidates, people like that, they’re anti-establishment candidates, and they benefited from the mood of the voter — ‘we tried everything else’ — and they have capitalized on that,” Mr. Davis said.

As for the GOP, he said tea party voters are “an energy source” providing enthusiasm and boosting the chances for a big Republican turnout, which was missing from the party’s 2006 and 2008 efforts.

Mr. Davis, who is chairman of the moderate coalition Republican Main Street Partnership, said the environment is so bad for Democrats that some surprise big names will lose on election night.

“I don’t want to tell you some of the Democrats I’ve talked with in the last couple weeks who are just shocked at their numbers. They’ve got competitive races, and nobody knows it,” he said.

A Bloomberg National poll taken last week found about a third of all likely voters support the tea party, and found tea party voters are significantly more motivated to turn out than voters in general.

Democratic supporters, though, say the atmosphere fueling the tea party enthusiasm is poisonous. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Thursday told the National Journal it reminds him of the environment he said led to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

“You remember when John Kennedy got off the plane in Dallas, Texas, there were people on the airwaves talking about doing violence to the president. And what happened?” Mr. Trumka said.

On Thursday, Mr. Kaine criticized outside groups who are spending millions of dollars attacking Democrats in this year’s election, calling it “a huge story.”

“We feel like anybody who’s putting ads up on the air ought to disclose who’s paying for them so that the American public can know,” he said. “The fact that they’re not disclosed tells me that those running the ads know that the voters would be pretty shocked if they saw who was funding them.”

But Mr. Davis, who led House Republicans’ campaign arm when the last major overhaul of campaign-finance rules was adopted in 2002, said Democrats have themselves to blame for pushing the money to those groups.

“We went to the Democrats after they passed McCain-Feingold and said we need to do something about 527s, but 527s advantaged them and they didn’t want to touch it,” he said. “Campaign finance [reform] has been a tremendous flop with a lot of unintended consequences.”

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