How unhappy is the Tea Party? Activists bummed about David Williams, peeved at Rand Paul

05/19/2011 04:07 PM

Deflated after their preferred candidate lost Tuesday’s Republican primary for governor, Kentucky tea party activists are distancing themselves from GOP nominee David Williams and expressing frustration at tea party standard bearer, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Many of the most active tea party organizations in Louisville, Lexington, Bowling Green and Paducah strongly backed Phil Moffett, a Louisville businessman. Williams, the Republican state Senate president, beat Moffett by 10 points on Tuesday.

Some activists said they’re still disappointed Paul stayed neutral during the governor’s race.

Now, some tea party groups are taking an-anyone-but-David-Williams approach because they say he’s not fiscally conservative enough and is part of “the establishment.”

“The Tea Party vote is totally up is in the air,” Randy Keller, a member of the Bowling Green/Southern Kentucky Tea Party, told Pure Politics in a phone interview.

Not everyone is ruling out voting for Williams and his running mate, Richie Farmer. But the independent slate of Gatewood Galbraith and Dea Riley could pick up some tea party votes, and so could the incumbent governor, Gov. Steve Beshear and his Democratic running mate Jerry Abramson.

Groups say Williams could earn support, but so could Beshear

It’s likely that with Moffett’s defeat, the tea party won’t have a united front in the 2011 gubernatorial race, leaders say. Members of Tea Party groups will be free to work for and support whomever they wish.

At least one Tea Party group, the Louisville Tea Party, says they are willing to give Williams at shot at getting their full group’s support.

“We look forward to hearing what Mr. Williams has to say to get full unity from the Tea Party,” Wendy Caswell, president of the Louisville Tea Party, said in an email. “We are principle before party and a candidate we endorse will have to match our mission statement and prove they are fiscally responsible and for constitutional government. Our base will also be in play as they are the ones David Williams will have to persuade.”

But Caswell previously said during the primary that Williams had often ignored her group’s request to speak at their events and showed little love for the Louisville Tea Party.

Keller, of Bowling Green, said he doesn’t think Williams can lock up much tea party support.

“Ninety-five percent of tea party people will not endorse Williams at all,” Keller said.

Keller did say that his group, the Bowling Green/SOKY Tea Party, was meeting Thursday night to discuss general election strategies. He said the group could choose between supporting Williams or Galbraith or staying silent.

Supporting Beshear is not an option, Keller said.

But at least one of Moffett’s strongest supporters said backing Beshear is a possibility.

“The tea party has its own mind,” said Mica Sims, a member of the Lexington Tea Party and a blogger. “I’m hearing it all. But a lot of my group will be voting for Beshear.”

Sims said the logic for voting for Beshear is that if a state is stuck with candidates who all could “mismanage the state,” it would be better to pick one that is limited to serving only four more years. Beshear is limited by law to serving beyond two terms.

P.U.M.A.?

Sims’ made public her dislike for Williams throughout the primary. But she took it to a new level recently online by coining an acronym that is quickly becoming a battle cry for many Moffett supporters: “P.U.M.A. or Party Unity My A**.”

Sims says she doesn’t know whether the saying will turn into a group of unhappy Moffett supports, but she says it sums up the feelings of most tea party types.

“I’ve been saying that for years,” Sims said. “We’re not just about Republicans, we’ve never been about party.”

Keller said he sees the tea party vote breaking down in three ways, based on the level of “disgust” an individual has.

“There will be a group of people who an ‘R’ is better than a ‘D’ and will hold their nose and pull the lever,” Keller said. “There will be a chunk who will vote for Beshear, who say ‘I wouldn’t vote for Williams if you paid me to vote for David Williams.’ And lastly, some will say if Bozo is their choice, why not vote for a real Bozo like Gatewood?”

Keller says he senses that some tea party people will just skip a vote in the gubernatorial race, focusing on down-ballot races instead. That may be a public approach for many of the Tea Party groups as well.

“We will look at the new slate of candidates for the general election in the governor’s race to see if we want to get involved there,” Caswell, of the Louisville Tea Party, said in an email. “We most likely will be involved in the election by discussing the issues that are affecting Kentucky but not necessarily promoting one particular candidate.”

And previously, Tea Party members acknowledged that Galbraith may have some appeal if Moffett wasn’t in the general election field.

Some blame Moffett’s loss on Paul’s silence

It’s typical for supporters to try to dissect why their candidate lost an election.

In Moffett’s case, he faced a 10-to-1 fundraising disadvantage, was a political newcomer with no name ID, didn’t run TV ads and wasn’t well-known outside of high population areas.

But Keller says Moffett’s defeat could be laid at the feet of the first candidate the tea party helped elect, U.S. Sen. Rand Paul.

Paul sat out the gubernatorial primary, saying he preferred not to repeat what happened during his primary, when U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell endorsed Paul’s opponent, Trey Grayson.

But Keller said with Paul’s support, all of Moffett’s disadvantages would have been erased.

“Tea Party people are completely befuddled by Rand Paul’s silence in the primary,” Keller said. “Utterly outraged. He went to Washington, he didn’t leave the planet. He ignored every tea party leader and activist with silence. It’s disgraceful.”

But very few national tea party groups got involved in the gubernatorial primary. Only the Western Representative PAC headed by Joe Miller, the former Alaska tea party candidate for Senate, invested effort and money in the race.

Still, Paul’s lack of involvement in the primary won’t have long-term ramifications, Keller said.

“We agree on 400 other issues,” Keller said.

Tea Party re-groups, plans to re-focus future efforts

One thing is for certain, after two elections — one with a victory, one without — tea party groups are going back to the drawing board for future elections.

Keller said the groups are talking about how they can coordinate better in the future. That may include groups in different cities having control over certain elements.

For example, Keller said the Lexington Tea Party could lead get-out-the-vote efforts across the state. And another group could handle media and advertising, Keller said.

“We really need to figure out we do better in the future,” Keller said.

Others, like Sims and Caswell, said not all was lost on Tuesday. The election of Bill Johnson as GOP nominee for Secretary of State, as well as John Kemper as Republican nominee for State Auditor of Public Accounts, as well as James Comer for GOP nominee for agriculture commissioner, shows the Tea Party can be effective.

Sims compared Moffett’s showing against Williams as to being a runner-up in a national championship game. Yes, your team lost, but you still made it to the title game, she said.

“I’m a little frustrated,” Sims said. “I wish I had a candidate I really supported. But it’s hard to be really frustrated (with the down-ballot success) … I’m very proud of that.”

Keller said tea party groups shouldn’t be content with a “three out of four” mentality, because the governor’s office “is the golden ring.”

But he said how the collective tea party groups proceed, both individual and collectively, should be something to watch for in the months and years to come, noting that the groups aren’t content to settle.

“It’ll very interesting to see how the tea party conducts itself moving forward in this election,” Keller said. “I’m going to be very candid with you, I think they will be very publicly quiet during the general election and will regroup once emotions settle.”

-Reporting by Kenny Colston

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