Blamed by Republicans for alienating voters, anti-tax Tea Party lawmakers have cemented their influence as most were re-elected to Congress this week.
The Tea Party movement suffered some losses to Democrats in U.S. Senate races in Indiana and Missouri, while a half-dozen freshman Republicans who rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 were defeated in the Nov. 6 election.
Still, in the next session of Congress, Republicans will see a strong segment of their party pressing Tea Party principles such as spending cuts and opposition to tax increases, according to analysts and Tea Party activists.
“They are the base of the Republican Party; they are not going away,” said Brigitte Nacos, a political science professor at Columbia University in New York, who tracks the Tea Party movement. “They are still a strong presence in the House.”
Of the 55 members of the Tea Party caucus who ran for House seats on Nov. 6, at least 51 will return for the 113th Congress starting in January. Defeated were freshman Representatives Joe Walsh and Allen West, members of the House caucus, and Roscoe Bartlett, a 10-term Maryland Republican. Another caucus member, Jeff Landry of Louisiana, is in a runoff with Republican Charles Boustany. Not all Tea Party-backed lawmakers have joined the caucus.
West has requested a recount. Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy led him by 2,456 votes out of 318,200 cast.
Several long-time House members who support the Tea Party ideology are returning to Congress after tough re-election contests. Among them are Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Steve King of Iowa, founding members of the House Tea Party Caucus. The caucus includes a mix of veteran Republican lawmakers and some of the freshmen elected in 2010.
“The voters returned me to office in large numbers,” King, who defeated his Democratic opponent by 53 to 45 percent, said today in a phone interview. “That says to me they want me to continue forward.” The re-election of many Tea Party caucus members means leaders will emerge from their ranks and “step up” on the principles, King said.
Freshman Republicans who were defeated include Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Bobby Schilling and Walsh, both of Illinois, and Nan Hayworth of New York. Two others, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire and Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, lost to Democrats they had unseated two years ago.
The loss of these half-dozen seats was attributed to difficulty that Tea Party members had in swing and redrawn districts following the Census.
“They tend to be more vulnerable than a more mainstream or more moderate Republican would be in the same district,” said Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory University in Atlanta. “A Tea Party candidate that is not in a safe district” will have trouble, he said.
One Senate Democratic leader said today he views the losses in the House and Senate as a sign the Tea Party is on the descent.
“Those Tea Party candidates who won, many, many, many of them ran away from the Tea Party platform,” New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the chamber’s third-ranking Democrat, said at a breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. “They didn’t make that their main thrust. So they’re a little bit chastened, the ones who’ve come back.”
Meanwhile, Representative Mike Pence, who is affiliated with the Tea Party, became Indiana’s next governor. Akin, Rehberg and Pence will be replaced in the House by like-minded Republicans.
Even with the handful of Tea Party losses, the House “becomes more fiscally conservative,” Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based organization aligned with the Tea Party philosophy, said in an interview.
Tea Party-backed lawmakers will continue to press for lower taxes, federal spending cuts and a reduction in the growth of entitlement programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, as well as the repeal of Obama’s 2010 health care overhaul law.
“Our work begins again today,” Jenny Beth Martin, the national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said in an e-mailed statement. “We will turn our attention back to Congress, to fight the battles that lie ahead including balancing the budget, repealing Obamacare, cutting the debt, holding the line on the debt ceiling.”
The loss of a half-dozen Republican seats means “the House isn’t going to be very different” from the current one, which is “the most conservative group of Republicans in decades,” Emory’s Abramowitz said.
Though the defeat of Akin and Indiana Senate nominee Richard Mourdock helped Democrats retain the Senate, the Republican caucus in that chamber has gained more voices in support of lower taxes and less government spending, Kibbe said.
The Senate will be “more fiscally conservative,” he said. “That is unprecedented.”
With the election to the Senate of Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, Abramowitz said Republican Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina “is going to have more allies for his Tea Party caucus.”
“The Senate is becoming more like the House. It is becoming more ideologically polarized, with the difference that the Senate doesn’t work” like the House, Abramowitz said.