Tea Party Take-Over

By Eliza

Jan 24, 2011 5:39pm

ABC’s Amy Walter reports: The “outsiders” of 2010 are now moving to the inside. Over the weekend, Republicans in Arizona, New Hampshire and Washington picked Tea Party candidates to run their state party — bucking candidates supported by key party figures in the state.

In New Hampshire, businessman Jack Kimball defeated the hand-picked candidate of outgoing Chairman John Sununu, Chesire County GOP chair Julia Bergeron.

Tom Flaherty, a Republican committee member and Kimball supporter, said he was attracted to Kimball because he “comes from the grassroots. The fact that he doesn’t have 25 years in the party is appealing to me.” Moreover, said Flaherty who blogs for the conservative site GraniteGrok.com, Kimball will help keep the activist base energized – and writing checks. With Kimball in charge of the party said Flaherty, you will see more people get involved in the county level because they feel like it’s not a club, it’s not a closed society.”

But, not everyone believes Kimball will broaden the party’s appeal. Instead some, including Sununu, worry that he’ll move the party too far right and spook independent voters. Independent voters traditionally make up anywhere from 35 to 40 percent of the primary vote.

In his speech on Saturday afternoon, Sununu said “we as a party need to provide a comfortable environment for all candidates.” This was a not so subtle reference to a statement Kimball made to the New Hampshire Journal earlier this month where he said “we must put forth a strong conservative presidential candidate…I won’t tolerate our party deviating from its conservative platform.”

“In my view winning in this state means getting those independent votes,” said committee member Norm Olson of Portsmouth. That means the party chair “has to have a real strategy to get those independent voters.”

In an interview with ABC News a couple hours before the vote, Bergeron downplayed any significant rift in the party, but said that she and Kimball “differ” on their approach to independent voters. “He came out and said he’d have a litmus test,” she said. But, she did acknowledge that Kimball said he wouldn’t endorse a candidate for President.

In Arizona, Tea Party favorite Tom Morrissey defeated Ron Carmichael, who had the support of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ). 

After being sworn in as new party chairman, Morrisey told the crowd of 1,300 Republican activists: “My election today is a testimony to the new energy in our party, the constitutional conservatives, the Tea Party, you people. This is your victory.”

And, in Washington state conservative talk radio host Kirby Wilbur easily beat two-term party chairman Luke Esser. Esser had the backing of Republican Attorney General and likely Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna.

It’s not clear that any of these new chairmen will be making any sort of fundamental changes to the party platform or strategy. But, it does show that tea party activists are ready to get off the sidelines and into the locker rooms.

For more on the weeekend in politics, watch Amy’s report on World News:

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