Tales from the Trail

Washington Extra – Whose party?

As a Brit I never like to write too much about the Tea Party, but today I have no choice.
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Every week that goes by the movement seems to gain more momentum. On Tuesday, our poll showed Democratic heavyweight Harry Reid clinging to a narrow lead in Nevada against Tea Party insurgent Sharron Angle. That night, Republican establishment favorite Michael Castle was knocked off his perch in the Delaware primary by upstart Christine O’Donnell. Today, our Reuters/Ipsos poll shows one of the Tea Party’s most well-known favorites, Marco Rubio, opening a clear lead in the race for a Senate seat from Florida. With just six weeks to go until the elections, Rubio leads state Governor Charlie Crist, now running as an independent, by 40 percent to 26 percent, with Democrat Kendrick Meek trailing behind.

But who is going to benefit?

Republicans are hoping the surge in enthusiasm for a right-wing agenda will get their supporters to the polls, and right now there is a definite “enthusiasm gap” between Republicans and Democrats in terms of their likelihood to vote.

Democrats are still hoping that “Tea Partiers” will simply be too right-wing for voters to accept in many states. The contest in Nevada is a critical one, with Reid hoping he can cling to his slightodonnell lead against Angle, a lead he might not have against a more centrist candidate. More to the point, some Dems could scarcely contain their glee this morning after O’Donnell’s victory, calling her an “ultra right-wing extremist” who will be rejected by Delaware voters, and arguing they might now just keep control of the Senate as a result.

But Rubio’s performance shows it may not be that simple. The son of Cuban immigrants, he has softened his rhetoric since winning the Republican nomination  and has apparently picked up plenty of centrist voters along the way. The poll numbers show a big swing in his favor since mid-August, when another Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Crist marginally ahead.

Finally today, take a look at Kim Dixon’s analysis of how the tax policy espoused by both sides of the aisle would really affect small businesses and hiring, a story that cuts through some of the rhetoric around this debate. There’s an interesting story too about more privacy problems for Google after the company fired an engineer for apparently spying on teenagers’ accounts. And tomorrow, look out for Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner testifying on China on the Hill, where anger over the yuan’s value and calls for retribution are mounting. The issue puts the administration in a tight spot as the elections loom, as I am sure they will be reluctant to be drawn into a damaging dispute with Beijing.

Reuters-Ipsos poll: Tea Party favorite Rubio ahead in Florida Senate race

The Tea Party’s on a roll and it’s a wake-up and smell the coffee moment for anyone who had dismissed the movement as a passing fad.

Tea Party backed Christine O’Donnell shook the political cognoscenti by winning the Delaware Republican primary over  longtime congressman Michael Castle last night. USA-POLITICS/FLORIDA

Another Tea Party favorite, Marco Rubio, is leading in the Senate race in Florida, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll on Wednesday.

O’Donnell slams Republican “cannibalism”

Fresh off an upset victory in Delaware, Tea Party candidate Christine O’Donnell slammed the Republican establishment for “cannibalism” during the primary election but predicted she could win in the general election even without their support.

USA/O’Donnell, an upstart who knocked off nine-term Representative Michael Castle in Tuesday’s Republican Senate primary election, made the rounds of the morning TV shows to tout her victory against the mainstream candidate.

She thanked former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for her support, saying it helped woo voters to her side.

Reuters-Ipsos poll: Senate Majority Leader Reid barely ahead in Nevada race

Perhaps it will become known as a tale of two Reids.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is barely ahead of his Republican opponent Sharron Angle in the Nevada race for U.S. Senate, and his son Rory Reid is slipping against Republican Brian Sandoval in the governor’s race, according to a Reuters-Ipsos poll.

Looking at likely voters, Reid is up 46-44 percent against Angle. Among registered voters, Reid is up 46-38 percent and among independents, he is up 29-15 percent. USA-ELECTIONS

When it comes to Nevada voters views of the Tea Party, which supports Angle, 51 percent of registered voters, 56 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents said it would make no difference on whether to support or not support Angle.

Castle vs. O’Donnell

USA-ELECTION/The fate of another Republican lawmaker lies in the balance Tuesday in tiny Delaware, where the insurgent Tea Party movement is hoping to pull off another big primary  upset.

This time the target is Michael Castle, a nine-term Congressman who is pursuing the  Republican Senate nomination. The GOP establishment is behind Castle, a former governor and popular moderate (and said to be a direct descendant of  Benjamin Franklin) in a race Delawareonline.com reports  “hinges on character.”

Challenger Christine O’Donnell, a marketing consultant and little-known conservative, hadn’t been considered much of a threat — until she picked up support from the Tea Party Express and endorsements from Tea Party favorites former Alaska governor  Sarah Palin and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Washington Extra – Party games and blame games

boehnerA smart move by Republican leader John Boehner today, or a nicely laid trap if you prefer. Boehner echoed yesterday’s call from former White House budget director Peter Orszag, for a two-year extension to the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans. Boehner appealed for both parties to “do this together” to “show the American people that we understand what is going on in this country.” There was, of course, one big difference between Boehner’s and Orszag’s suggestions – the Republican leader conveniently left out the all-important promise to let  all the tax cuts expire at the end of that two-year period. Not surprisingly, President Barack Obama swiftly rejected the offer, insisting that the country could not afford to extend tax cuts for the rich. “This isn’t to punish folks who are better off — God bless them – it is because we can’t afford the $700 billion price tag,” he said in Ohio. You get the feeling this partisan battle isn’t going to be settled easily or early, and the lingering uncertainty this creates is probably not good news for the economy. Expect the blame game to continue.

Elsewhere today, a lovely special report on the Tea Party and how the upstart is growing up and going back to school, determined to shed its amateur status. If it succeeds, the movement’s influence could well extend beyond November and into the 2012 presidential race, although who that might ultimately benefit is very much an open question. Take a look also at our exclusive report on how the Pentagon’s top watchdog has abandoned efforts to do in-depth audits of defense contracts, leaving billions of dollars of taxpayer money at risk from  overpayments and fraud.

Meanwhile, another blame game continues over the Gulf oil spill, with BP’s own investigation not impressing Democratic congressman and critic Edward Markey. “This report is not BP’s mea culpa,” he said. “Of their own eight key findings, they only explicitly take responsibility for half of one. BP is happy to slice up the blame as long as they get the smallest piece.”

Washington Extra -The audacity of hope?

If rescuing the U.S. economy from the Slough of Despond wasn’t enough, President Barack Obama took a stab at finding peace in the Middle East today. Obama is determined to forge a new relationship with the Muslim world, and presumably would like to unquestionably earn the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded last year.obama_middleast But getting embroiled in the Middle East is a risk for the president, not least because failure to reach an accord could set back his efforts to win over Muslims and achieve solidarity over Iran. Ordinary Israelis and Palestinians are not optimistic about this latest peace effort, and experts say the one-year deadline to reach a deal does not appear very realistic. Nevertheless, it is hard to argue with Obama’s opening remarks today, and his hope that “extremists and rejectionists” should not be allowed to derail the peace process.

It is often interesting when high-ranking officials leave office and get the chance to unburden themselves. White House economist Christina Romer was no exception today, issuing an impassioned plea for more economic stimulus measures, even if they push up the fiscal deficit in the short term. “The only sure-fire ways for policymakers to substantially increase aggregate demand in the short run are for the government to spend more and tax less. In my view we should be moving forward on both fronts,” she said in a speech at the National Press Club. “I desperately hope that policymakers on both sides of the aisle will find a way to finish the job of economic recovery,” she added. WashingtonExtra won’t be holding its metaphorical breath.

Finally today, another win by a Tea Party favorite in Alaska this week underlines that the movement is not just a passing fad, and has the staying power to be  a significant factor in November’s Congressional elections. What’s more, Democratic hopes that radical Tea Party candidates will alienate moderate voters and energize Democrats are not being realized. In fact, Tea Party favorites are already ahead of Democratic rivals in the opinion polls in Colorado, Kentucky and Florida, and only slightly behind in Nevada.

Top Democrat dismisses Beck’s ‘non-political’ rally as blatant politics

A Washington rally that will be hosted by Fox TV’s Glenn Beck and feature conservative power broker Sarah Palin drew the wrath on Friday of the chairman of the House Democratic campaign committee.

USA/Chris Van Hollen rejected organizers’ assurances that the “Restoring Honor Rally” — expected to draw thousands of members of the conservative Tea Party movement — would be “non-political.”

In fact, Van Hollen predicted the rally would be partisan and could turn off many voters.

Florida, Arizona contestants set, still waiting on Alaska…

The contestants are set in Florida’s three-way race for the U.S. Senate and John McCain holds on to pursue a fifth term. USA/PALIN

But most of the chatter this morning is about the Alaska surprise where Joe Miller, an underdog candidate backed by Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, edged into the lead over incumbent Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski. It may take a week or more to determine the winner of the primary as rural and absentee votes are tallied. 

How Miller fares will be seen as a test of Palin’s clout in the Republican Party. She has backed a number of candidates in this primary season and her results are mixed.

McCain, J.D. Hayworth both claim Tea Party backing

Both Arizona Republican primary challenger J.D. Hayworth and moderate incumbent John McCain claimed the support of Tea Party activists on Monday in their knock-down, drag-out fight for to be their party’s pick to run for the U.S. Senate in the state.
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Hayworth, a former U.S. Congressman who has campaigned as the “Consistent Conservative,” claimed the backing of a statewide coalition of Tea Party activists and “like minded” conservatives in his flagging challenge to unseat four-term incumbent McCain in the August 24 primary.

Hayworth, a talk show host, has lambasted centrist McCain as a liberal on immigration and fiscal issues. On Monday, he trumpeted the support of 16 Tea Party organizations from across the state, posting testimonials on his campaign website.

“We, as conservative leaders and individuals in Arizona, representing thousands of members …  are looking forward to supporting Mr. Hayworth’s campaign in the general election,” Annette McHugh, the leader of the Tea Party Patriots of Glendale, said in an endorsement.