Maryland: the land that TEA forgot?

I actually sent this in to PJM early this but they decided not to run it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s a little bit off-message, or perhaps we are a true backwater of conservative politics. 

Last year in Virginia and New Jersey, the first successes of the TEA Party movement swept unabashed fiscal conservatives Bob McDonnell and Chris Christie into office.

Similarly in Pennsylvania, the latest polls show Republicans with wide leads in statewide races for governor and U.S. Senate. Next door in West Virginia, a Republican has a good chance of taking over the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat stalwart Robert Byrd.

Even where the polls aren’t as friendly, such as Delaware, they garnered national attention when a TEA Party-backed upstart in Christine O’Donnell upended longtime moderate Republican Congressman Mike Castle in the September 14 primary. O’Donnell made her final push to victory after getting financial backing from the TEA Party Express and the endorsement of Sarah Palin.

Yet as all that political turmoil roils states which border Maryland, TEA Party activists there bemoan the fact that they’ve been bypassed by the excitement.

Sarah Palin’s endorsement of TEA Party favorite Brian Murphy did little to help his campaign for governor as he was spanked by a nearly 50 point margin in the September 14 primary. While Delaware voters turned their political world upside down by going against the state’s establishment Republicans and selecting O’Donnell, Maryland’s state GOP apparatus placed their support behind former governor Bob Ehrlich almost immediately after he formally announced he would seek the office again. The move angered conservative activists but more mainline Republicans bought the argument that only Ehrlich could unseat current Governor Martin O’Malley – who defeated Ehrlich in 2006.

Unfortunately, as of this writing, Ehrlich trails in the latest Rasmussen Poll by 8 points, which is larger than his 2006 margin of defeat. A similar (and more recent) poll by Gonzales Research has Ehrlich down 5.

Of course there are bright spots for conservative activists in some portions of the state. Andy Harris is a TEA Party favorite who is giving freshman Democrat Frank Kratovil all he can handle in a spirited First District race that’s also a rematch, from 2008. Even more popular is the man challenging Steny Hoyer in the Fifth District, Charles Lollar. He’s a dynamic speaker who has excited crowds anywhere from a small campaign event to the 9-12 rally in Washington, D.C.

But for two TEA Party believers I spoke to, the lack of good choices on the Maryland ballot is disheartening.

Chris Lewis helped to organize the first TEA Party in the small Eastern Shore city of Salisbury back in April 2009. This involvement eventually led to an unsuccessful run for a Wicomico County Council seat earlier this year but he still attends a number of TEA Party events and leads the occasional local protest.

While he has no bitterness about losing in his primary – Chris ran as a Republican this time after a bid as an unaffiliated candidate 12 years ago – he’s “not too happy” with the remainder of the choices Republicans selected.

“Voting for the lesser of two evils is becoming very frustrating,” said Chris. “Maryland has always been blue, but the Maryland GOP has done a horrible job of putting up serious and constitutionally conservative candidates against these very weak, liberal, anti-constitutional and anti-business Democrat candidates.”

Fellow conservative activist Julie Brewington agrees. Like Lewis, she was active in the local TEA Party movement practically from its inception and ran for office this year, losing in a GOP primary for a House of Delegates seat.

Julie ran down a list of Republican nominees at the state and local level, describing many as “blah” or milquetoast. “I will reluctantly pull the lever for Ehrlich,” she said, if only for the sake of having a better say in redistricting. “I have finally come around to the fact that if Ehrlich is not voted in we will have no voice at all, as conservatives in this state.”

Still, she’s frustrated at what’s happened to the movement she helped create. “I feel the TEA party here in Maryland has been hijacked to a degree successfully by establishment Republicans,” said Julie. “It’s because of this we have less than exciting candidates to pick from.”

In fact, Julie was most thrilled about crossing over to Delaware to attend a campaign rally for U.S. Senate hopeful Christine O’Donnell. “She’s the closest thing to a true blue TEA Party candidate we have locally (and) I can relate to Christine on many levels. This would include personal attacks I endured during my candidacy for the House of Delegates.”

“She is me, and I am you.”

Lewis and Brewington express a thought that many conservatives trapped in the (not so) Free State have been thinking for years. Emboldened to speak out by other events nationally, they’re afraid that they’re being abandoned by state and national Republicans and don’t have the numbers to make a difference. This is odd because the same Rasmussen Poll that had Ehrlich 8 points down also showed that seventeen percent of Maryland voters consider themselves members of the TEA Party movement, a number slightly higher than the national average.

Yet as Republican U.S. Senate hopeful Eric Wargotz noted when I asked him about the TEA Party, “I absolutely agree with the two main tenets (of fiscal responsibility and limited government)…but Maryland is a Democratic state.” He’s had to walk a bit of a tightrope in his campaign, although it’s clear that Wargotz has embraced the TEA Party more than Bob Ehrlich has in the other major statewide race – Ehrlich completely dismissed the Palin endorsement of his opponent and hasn’t made any attempt to make up with movement conservatives in the state.

Perhaps in a cycle or two Maryland may catch on, but by all indications there’s not going to be a lot of TEA Party victories in the Free State next week. It’s a sad state of affairs, but it’s one the Maryland Republican Party may have brought upon itself due to the conscious decision to not listen to its newly-energized TEA Party base and instead choose the establishment side in the primary.

Author: Michael

It's me from my laptop computer.

4 thoughts on “Maryland: the land that TEA forgot?”

  1. Good article, Mike. Chris’s comments are a little off-base, though. The idea that the Maryland GOP “puts up” candidates to run is just plain wrong. The state GOP doesn’t select candidates. Candidates run in primaries and the primary voters select them. If there is a lack of constitutional conservative candidates running it’s because they don’t exist or they don’t get enough votes in the primaries. There is no grand GOP conspiracy to frustrate the teeming horde of constitutional conservative candidates who are just waiting to run.

    When we do have candidates of the type Chris likes, such as the slate of Tea Party candidates who ran locally this year, they are often handily defeated. There was no grand conspiracy of the GOP Establishment (whatever that is — I still have yet to see that defined) to defeat these candidates. In the end, the voters looked at them and decided they weren’t the right candidates to represent them in the general election. It’s not, as you say, Mike, that the Republican Party didn’t listen to the Tea Party base, it’s that the voters looked at the Tea Party candidates and rejected them. Whether they did so because of their message, their personality, their electability, or whatever, is up for debate, but you can’t blame their defeat on the party bosses.

    If you don’t like the candidates who are running, then don’t blame the party, blame the voters. The voters are the ones who choose nominees.

  2. I think Chris was referring to the Rule 11 controversy, where the state party put its finger on the scale for Bob Ehrlich and Andy Harris. Chris was a supporter of Brian Murphy and Rob Fisher.

    But you need to look at his comments from the perspective of the person speaking them, as Chris hasn’t been politically active until he was finally fed up by the national situation. He’s the kind of voter the GOP needs (small business owner/entrepreneur) and we want to keep these people active in the political process, not make them feel they’re up against some sort of machine.

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