The tea party movement is poised to win another big political scalp Tuesday — but it probably won’t be in Oregon.
Instead, expect national attention to focus on Kentucky, where polls show tea party favorite Rand Paul is likely to defeat Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the GOP Senate nomination.
Tea party activists — the folks who held big Tax Day rallies and badgered members of Congress to reject health care legislation — are the most visible face of a newly energized movement for limited government that is sometimes allied with Republicans and sometimes upending the GOP establishment.
Activists claiming the tea party mantle literally drove Florida Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party after he realized he would lose the GOP Senate nomination. Last weekend, tea party members provided much of the political muscle at a Utah GOP convention that blocked veteran Sen. Bob Bennett from running for reelection.
The story line looks different in Oregon.
In the Republican governor’s race, the candidate who has catered the least to tea party activists, former Trail Blazer Chris Dudley, is leading in the polls. And candidates tying themselves to the tea party in two GOP congressional primaries face an uphill fight against candidates with more establishment backing.
Unlike Florida or Utah, tea party activists aren’t focused on any particular race in Oregon. There’s no high-profile battle between a Republican incumbent and a grassroots candidate pledging to cut spending and reduce the federal debt.
State Republican Chairman Bob Tiernan said there’s a simple reason: “We don’t have any Republicans in statewide office,” he said with a sad chuckle.
In Oregon, Democrats hold every statewide office, control both houses of the Legislature and occupy four of five congressional seats.
Perhaps as a result, most Republicans running for major office on Tuesday don’t have much — or any — government experience. And that makes it easy for just about all of them to say they work quite nicely with the multiplicity of groups claiming the tea party mantle.
Dudley said that as a newcomer to politics, he connects quite well with Tea Partiers upset with the status quo.
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