Tea Party Candidates Show Varied Conservative Attitudes

Daniel Reiner
Contributing Writer

Virginia is home to more than 75 groups that identify themselves with the Tea Party moniker, but there are none on VCU campus.

This comes as no surprise after a study done by the Pew Research Center found only 8 percent of Tea Party supporters are under the age of 30, and that the majority of Tea Party supporters are older white men.

After the tax-day protests of 2009, candidates and political action committees across the country began to brand themselves as Tea Party activists, despite a lack of a political party by that name or even a set of standard policies.

“Their disenfranchisement is what holds them together more than any specific issue,” said David Fincannon, president of VCU’s Young Americans for Liberty, a libertarian organization that does not claim Tea Party affiliation. “Generally they feel like they have been abandoned by the political process, and their response is to get together with people who share similar ideology.”

Fincannon said he was hesitant to use the term “tea party” in reference to any one group of people. He highlighted the local aspect of the groups and the vast differences between the economic and social ideals of each.

Recent primary victories by Tea Party-backed candidates in several states are threatening the GOP’s chances of becoming the majority in Congress this November.

Conservative organizations known for strong ties to the Republican Party have been jumping ship and rebranding themselves to support Tea Party candidates. Some of these groups such as the Tea Party Patriots, who received more than a million dollars in donations during the last month, are vague about their income sources.

Delaware senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell upset Republican establishment choice Michael Castle, even after raising controversy over her neo-conservative ideas such as wanting to outlaw masturbation.

In a recent NPR interview, Fox News commentator Juan Williams pinned O’Donnell’s victory on support she received from the Tea Party Express, a political action committee backed by former Republican fundraising consultant Sal Russo.

The Tea Party express supported the O’Donnell campaign with rallies and fundraising efforts. Just days before the primary, the group dropped what they call a “money bomb” of $250,000 in TV ads to assist the O’Donnell campaign.

“There are people of all intellectual persuasions and ideologies within the tea party movement,” said Dr. Deirdre Condit of the VCU Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs. “We like to be worked up in this country. If it’s not a football game that we’re on the other side of, we like to get worked up in a kind of political sense.”

According to Condit, the effect of Tea Party primary victories on the upcoming election remains unclear. Condit said she expects the primary upsets to polarize and unite the Democratic vote, but admitted each state’s political history tends to have more of an impact on midterm elections than any national movement.

“But you know,” Condit said, “voters are funny.”

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