Democratic Campaign Chief Says Tea Party Will Hurt Republicans

Victories of “extreme right” Tea Party-backed congressional candidates in Republican primaries will help the Democratic Party retain control of the House by alienating independent voters who will determine the November election outcome, the House Democrats’ campaign chief said.

Many Republican candidates “emerging from the primaries are on the far right of the political spectrum, and many are driven by the Tea Party movement,” Representative Chris Van Hollen told reporters in Washington.

Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, disputed the argument of Republican strategists such as California Representative Kevin McCarthy that the Democratic House majority is in jeopardy because of a 9.5 percent nationwide unemployment rate and President Barack Obama’s drooping approval rating, 44 percent in the latest Gallup daily tracking poll. To win a majority, Republicans need a net gain of 39 House seats.

“If you watch these Republican primaries closely, there are many instances now where the candidate that represented the more moderate Republican approach has lost to the more extreme right candidate,” Van Hollen said.

Many Republican candidates backed by the Tea Party movement are “way out of the mainstream in what are traditionally mainstream districts” where election outcomes “are largely decided by independent voters,” Van Hollen said. Those independents don’t want a return to Republican President George W. Bush’s “economic agenda on steroids,” he said.

Alaska’s Libertarians

In Alaska, Joe Miller, a Fairbanks lawyer backed by the Tea Party, a loose-knit alliance of voters opposing higher taxes and government spending, is leading Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in a primary vote that will be decided next week by a count of absentee ballots. Murkowski trails by 1,668 votes cast on Aug. 24. The absentee vote-counting will start Aug. 31.

The Alaska Libertarian Party “is talking about” endorsing Murkowski if Miller knocks her off the Republican ballot, the party’s state chairman, Scott Kohlhaas, said yesterday in an e- mail.

The current Libertarian Senate candidate, David Haase, may be willing to withdraw if Murkowski “is willing to take on some of his issues,” said Eric Dondero, who is managing Kohlhaas’s campaign for the state legislature.

Libertarian Haase “just wants to be able to get his issues out there,” Dondero said in a telephone interview. He would have to make a decision by Sept. 15 to allow a new candidate to qualify for the ballot, Dondero said.

Arizona Victory

Van Hollen cited the Republican primary victory in Arizona of Tea Party-backed Jesse Kelly over Jonathan Paton, who was “highly touted” by House Republicans for the nomination to challenge first-term Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords. Kelly is “a far-right candidate who believes in privatizing Social Security,” Van Hollen said.

Kelly’s campaign spokesman John Ellinwood said his candidate “is in favor of reforming Social Security” to ensure that benefits “will be there in the future” for “those who paid into the system.” Kelly favors giving younger workers the option of setting aside some of their Social Security contributions in a private account that is invested “among a range of appropriate options for retirement,” the spokesman said.

Kelly is “a mainstream conservative candidate with positive solutions to control spending and grow the economy. That’s what the voters want,” Ellinwood said.

Registered Republicans have a 17,000-voter plurality over registered Democrats in that congressional district, where almost a third of the voters are registered as independents, Ellinwood said.

It’s “not a walk-away district, it clearly will be in play,” Ellinwood said.

To contact the reporter on this story: James Rowley in Washington at jarowley@bloomberg.net

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