Tea Party supporters boasted of their 28 victories in U.S. House races. What the election results also made clear was that their appeal stopped at the border of the most densely-populated states and metropolitan areas.
Republican Carl Paladino, who had the Tea Party endorsement, took a 27 percentage-point drubbing from Democrat Andrew Cuomo in New York’s gubernatorial race. In California, Carly Fiorina failed in her Senate race.
Other contests in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago and Philadelphia showed as well that Democrats maintained their political firewall in areas that historically have backed their party.
In New Jersey, Tea Party-backed U.S. House candidate Anna Little lost to Democratic incumbent Frank Pallone by 11 points. Governor Chris Christie backed Little only after his first choice lost to her in the state’s Republican primary.
Christie last month decided not to join a lawsuit the Tea Party filed against the health-care overhaul President Barack Obama pushed through Congress. And he rejected help from former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, a prominent spokeswoman for the Tea Party causes of limited government and lower taxes, for his own campaign last year.
“The trend is away from Tea Party people, demographically,” said Ken Warren, a professor of political science at St. Louis University.
The Nov. 2 election results and Christie’s reluctance to fully embrace the Tea Party illustrates the group’s difficulty in winning elections in some of the most populous U.S. areas.
Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat who defeated Republican Scott Sipprelle 53 percent to 46 percent, said “at the end of the day, New Jersey is still a blue state. It’s still significantly more Democratic-leaning than Republican. For any conservative movement, it’s going to be tough to make inroads.”
“The country is red in the middle, but it’s blue on the sides,” he said, using the color-coded political parlance for regions that trend toward Republicans and areas where Democrats have the advantage.
A Republican Party fueled by energy and enthusiasm from Tea Party activists gained at least 60 House seats in the midterm vote, easily exceeding the 39 needed to take control of the chamber. Tea Party-endorsed candidates accounted for 28 of those pickups, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Florida Defies Trend
To be sure, Tea Party favorites such as Marco Rubio in Florida defied the trend by winning the Senate race in the U.S.’s fourth most-populous state.
Republicans running in traditionally Democratic areas need support from independents and some Democrats to succeed in certain parts of the country, said Mike DuHaime, a political adviser to Christie.
“To be successful -- in the Northeast or in any other blue state, whether it’s Illinois or on the West Coast -- you have to appeal to a broader audience,” DuHaime said.
Dennis Hastert, the former Republican speaker of the House from Illinois, likened the Tea Party winners to those who won election in 1994, energized by their support of former presidential candidate Ross Perot.
“The big challenge will be bringing these people into the process,” Hastert said.
Going into the midterm elections, the party breakdown among House members in the six-state New England area was 22 Democrats, zero Republicans. In the elections, Republicans picked up only two, in New Hampshire.
Tea Party-endorsed candidates who lost House bids in the region included Republicans Jason Levesque and Dean Scontras in Maine and Jeff Perry, who was seeking the Massachusetts seat vacated by retiring Democrat Bill Delahunt. The seat was won by Democrat Bill Keating.
In California, Fiorina called the movement a “tremendous help” to her campaign. Fiorina lost to Senator Barbara Boxer, 52 percent to 43 percent.
“The voters, I think, said to us that they don’t want to engage in the divisive Tea Party-type of politics,” said state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento.
A San Francisco-based Field Poll released Oct. 6 found that almost seven out of 10 independent voters in California disliked Palin, that 53 percent of California voters had a negative opinion of her and that Palin’s endorsement would make them less inclined to vote for a candidate.
“The biggest factor is California’s size,” making it “difficult to organize anything of a grassroots nature,” said Douglas Johnson, a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
In Michigan, Tea Party-backed Republican Rob Steele lost by 17 percentage points to Democratic Representative John Dingell, a 55-year House veteran whose district covers part of Detroit’s industrialized suburbs including Woodhaven, site of a Ford Motor Co. plant.
In a Missouri House district that includes part of St. Louis and a mix of its suburbs, Tea Party-backed Republican Ed Martin lost to Democratic incumbent Russ Carnahan by two percentage points.
“The good news for Democrats in the next national election in 2012 is that it will draw out a more diverse mix of voters: younger, and more ethnically and racially representative,” said William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution in Washington. That should help them maintain the firewall they have in the metro areas, he said.
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at Msilva34@bloomberg.net