The Tea Party movement made a thunderous statement Wednesday night with local Tea Party groups and FreedomWorks-backed candidate Richard Mourdock securing a landslide victory over six-term incumbent Sen. Richard Lugar in the Indiana U.S. Senate Republican primary election. The race has been closely watched both in-state and nationally for its significance in gauging questions on whether the Tea Party influence will be as prominent in 2012 as it was in 2010, and whether grassroots organizers have learned from their mistakes and messaging since the movement first emerged during the president's push for national health care reform in 2009.
The National Journal's Sean Sullivan reports that the Tea Party's momentous victory Tuesday began on the ground floor, with local Tea Party groups organizing amongst themselves and then coalescing behind a candidate, before calling on out-of-state groups to help deliver the final blow:
Sixteen months ago, a collection of tea party organizers met in the city of Tipton. Their goal was to address flaws in the movement that were exposed in 2010, when infighting and competing agendas largely driven by national groups and consultants hindered its ability to make lasting gains. What resulted was "Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate,” a network of 60 tea party groups dedicated to retiring Lugar.
"We didn't have the unity [in 2010]. Once we built the foundation of unity, we went out and educated people about Lugar's voting record," said Monica Boyer, one of the group's cofounders.
The group endorsed Mourdock after a September straw poll showed that he was the preferred choice of conservative activists. National groups like the Tea Party Express that in 2010 were responsible for the rise of Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Joe Miller in Alaska had yet to enter fray in a major way. The national group FreedomWorks had met with Boyer’s organization, but it didn’t jump in with full force until Mourdock emerged as the consensus candidate.
"None of the outside groups were in here at that time," Boyer said. "We actually asked FreedomWorks to get involved.
The “Real News” panel was joined by Brendan Steinhauser of FreedomWorks Wednesday to discuss the Mourdock victory in Indiana, and what it means for the Tea Party moving forward.
S.E. Cupp analyzed that you could take one of two reactions from this election result. On the one hand, the Tea Party made a big statement that could reverberate with similar results for other like-minded Senate candidates in Texas and Utah, leading to the potential for a true coalition of Tea Party legislators moving the chamber to the Right this November. Or one could arrive at the less broad conclusion that this primary win is not as much about ideology, rather an elderly, aloof statesman coming to the end of the line after running an overconfident and smug campaign.
"I think this was a choice between an 80-year-old, out of touch senator, who was indignent about being potentially pushed out of the way, and did not come home and make nice with his constituents and did not take this seriously," said Cupp. "And you had a guy in Murdock who took advantage of that vulnerability."
Steinhauser admitted that Lugar's age and attitude did have a small factor in the race, but points to FreedomWorks polling that showed that Indiana voters' top issues in 2012 focused on objections to federal spending, private sector bailouts and amnesty to illegal immigrants.