Can Dems Run, and Win, Against the Tea Party?

Can Dems Run, and Win, Against the Tea Party?

By Paul Glastris

A couple weeks ago, I met up in DC with a former Clinton administration colleague, a great guy named James Cargas. A Houston area energy lawyer who got his start in politics interning for Tip O’Neill, Cargas is running in the Democratic primary for Texas’s 7th congressional seat. If he wins, he’ll face GOP incumbent John Culberson, who’s such a staunch Tea Party conservative that he’s fought against federal funding of light rail for his own city. The district leans Republican, but not so much that a moderate Democrat like Cargas can’t win. But what I found especially interesting is the central message of Cargas’ campaign: he’s running to help drive the Tea Party out of Congress.

That got me wondering: if Cargas thinks he can win by running against the Tea Party, are other Democratic candidates thinking the same thing?

Apparently so. The Washington Post today reports polling data showing that “opposition to the tea party is more strident than the tea party itself,” and that fewer Republicans are latching on to the label. It goes on to say this:

In contrast, Democrats are actually starting to wield the tea party label as a tool in their campaigns.

“I’m Bill Pascrell, and this is why I’m running: to stop the tea party,” the Democratic congressman from New Jersey says in a new ad.

The tea party is also being used against Reps. Joe Walsh (Ill.) and Ann Marie Buerkle (N.Y.), two top tea partiers in tough districts for the GOP, and was used in ads run by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.), who won a special election earlier this year.

Democrats say the issue works for them as they continue to define a Republican Party whose brand is already struggling.

“It’s no longer viewed as a populist, grass-roots organization, but a dangerous group with extremist views that don’t reflect the mainstream values of America’s middle class,” Democratic media strategist John Lapp said.

This will be an interesting trend to watch.