The Tea Party produced a lot of winners and losers in its short history.
Nowadays, the “Tea Party” is a trope that has come to encompass large swaths of the GOP, and reporters have learned that it’s tough to distinguish between a “Tea Party” Republican and a regular old Republican.
In 2009 and 2010, however, the Tea Party had its magic moment as an underdog push for anti-Obama, anti-tax, anti-spending candidates. It would come to upset the Republican Party and steer its policies rightward, but before that, the movement supplied a cast of unlikely characters that made the 2010 election cycle a memorable one.
Now, one of those characters is attempting a comeback.
Joe Miller, the Alaska attorney who nearly unseated Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski in 2010, will attempt another Senate run. He filed a declaration of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, and while his campaign has not officially announced itself, Miller himself is officially a candidate for Senate in 2014, seeking to replace Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
Miller was one of the losing candidates in 2010, having run a not-especially-disciplined campaign. But his renewed candidacy gives cause to revisit the winners and losers of the 2010 Tea Party wave.
Rand Paul. Who would’ve thought Rand Paul would become a national totem of libertarianism, much less win his Kentucky Senate race (a close one) in the first place. There was the GQ story about bong hits and “Aqua Buddha.” After he won, there was the Rachel Maddow interview about the Civil Rights Act.
But Paul has not only become a star Tea Partier and pillar of the movement’s libertarian wing, he’s pulled other Republicans toward his politics: Most recently, his filibuster protesting Obama administration drone strikes drew support (and floor appearances) from the establishment likes of Texas Senator and National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, in addition to the usual Tea Party suspects.
Marco Rubio. Even more so than Paul, Rubio is considered a strong contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, after having risen as an unlikely candidate in 2010. As Florida House speaker, Rubio had solid credentials to seek higher office, but he knocked Republican Gov. Charlie Crist out of the party on his way to the U.S. Senate. His small-government rhetoric made him an attractive alternative to the centrist governor and not only earned him support from Tea Partiers in Florida, but from conservatives nationwide.
Rubio has gone on to display more bipartisan tendencies than most Tea Partiers, working with the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” immigration group to push a deal for major reforms.
Mike Lee. The Utah senator knocked three-term incumbent Bob Bennett out of the Republican Party, ousting him in a showdown at the state’s GOP convention. He went on to defeat a fellow conservative, businessman Tim Bridgewater, in the Republican primary. It was smooth sailing from there, as Lee had no trouble capturing the deep-red state in his general election.
Lee’s advancement was an early victory for Tea Partiers in 2010, proving their electoral might–and the efficacy of Club for Growth funding–was real. While he’s not one of the best-known conservative senators, Lee would not be where he is without the groundswell of conservative support and money that pushed him past a seemingly safe incumbent Republican.
Joe Miller. Time will tell whether Miller is a winner or loser of the movement. If he wins in 2014, Miller can thank the Tea Party movement and his 2010 run: The Alaska attorney was a virtual unknown until, with the help of the national group Tea Party Express, he defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski in their primary. Murkowski went on to defeat Miller via a write-in campaign in the general election, and Miller’s star fell considerably, the candidate fading back into national political obscurity.
But if Miller mounts a winning campaign in 2014, he’ll do it with the name recognition he accrued in 2010–something he likely wouldn’t have attained without the national Tea Party movement at his back.
Sharron Angle. Roundly mocked, publicly and privately, by political analysts in Washington, the former Nevada assemblywoman crashed and burned in her 2010 Senate run. Her campaign against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was seen as undisciplined and unfocused. After brief talk of a run for Congress in 2012, Angle too has faded into obscurity.
When Reid defeated Angle, it was one of few consoling victories Democrats could enjoy in 2010.
Her political group, OurVoice PAC, conducted little activity in the 2012 election year: In the fourth quarter of last year, it raised no donations but sold its supporters list for $83,517 to a political consulting firm called The Prosper Group. Its only payments were to its treasurer, AT&T, and Wells Fargo. Angle’s 2010 campaign committee reportedly paid a $25,575 penalty to the Federal Election Commission this month after failing to submit incremental reports for some donations as Election Day approached.
Christine O’Donnell. O’Donnell, it has since been remarked, likely cost the GOP a Senate seat. Respected congressman Mike Castle had solid prospects to take over the seat for Republicans, but O’Donnell beat him out in a bitter primary and eventually lost to Democrat Chris Coons.
After her race, O’Donnell authored a book, “Troublemaker: Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again,” and launched a political group called ChristinePAC. The group took in almost $240,000 in 2012, most of it in payments from political firms, either rentals of ChristinePAC’s supporters list or in unspecified payments. In the fourth quarter of 2012, ChristinePAC received no donations.