A leader of the Tea Party Express that helped Sharron Angle win the GOP Senate nomination said Tuesday the group was surprised by its own success in backing long-shot primary victors nationwide, but dismissed skepticism those candidates can’t win on Nov. 2.
U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, remains the top target and the Tea Party movement’s highest hopes for defeat in the fall, Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express, said in an interview before attending a private fundraiser for Angle in Las Vegas. Polls show Angle and Reid locked in a dead heat for the Nevada Senate seat.
Kremer said leaders of the movement believe voters angry at rising spending and expanding government will continue to defy some pundit predictions and send Angle and other staunch Tea Party-backed conservatives to Washington despite their perceived flaws and foibles.
“We didn’t plan to have it all happen this way,” Kremer said. “It’s been a blur. So we’re really proud of the work we’ve done and of these candidates. We’ve done this one race at a time. It does keep getting bigger and bigger. But absolutely, any of these candidates can win these elections.”
The Tea Party Express sponsored the “Showdown in Searchlight,” an anti-Reid protest in the senator’s hometown that kicked off a cross-country “take back our country” tour. The March event attracted up to 10,000 people to hear GOP superstar Sarah Palin speak and call for Reid’s retirement.
At the tour’s end in Washington, D.C., on April 15, the group endorsed Angle, four months after stunning Democrats by helping Republican Scott Brown win the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat in Massachusetts. Since then, Tea Party-backed candidates have won more than half a dozen primary victories.
Among the crop of Tea Party candidates, Angle is in the most competitive general election race. But the former Reno assemblywoman has a record of anti-tax and anti-spending votes on which to run, unlike some other untested contenders.
Angle also has been competitive on the money front since her June 8 primary victory, although she can’t match the $25 million Reid plans to spend to fight for a fifth Senate term.
On Tuesday, Angle reached a $1 million online fundraising goal for September with more than a week to go, after matching Reid dollar-for-dollar in the previous quarter at about $2.4 million raised.
The Tea Party Express spent $1.2 million on the Reid-Angle race during the primary season. It raised $32,000 in a 24-hour period ending Tuesday alone after putting out a fresh plea for funds to beat a reported $15,000 raised for Reid at a New York fundraiser hosted Monday by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Tuesday evening, singer Pat Boone, a conservative icon, was among 100 people at a fundraiser for Angle at the home of Bruce and Barbara Lee Woollen, a Republican who lost the GOP primary for lieutenant governor. The Angle campaign didn’t immediately say how much money was raised.
Kremer, who traveled to Las Vegas to attend the event, said the Tea Party Express plans another late October cross-country bus tour with a Nevada stop.
“We’ll be back,” Kremer said, adding that the Tea Party Express will be aggressive on the air and on the ground to try to defeat Reid, whose seat is key to Senate control. “This race is our No. 1 goal.”
Rand Paul, who has running for the Senate in Kentucky, seems positioned to win in November, but several other Tea Party-backed candidates are facing tough, uphill battles.
The Tea Party Express spent $240,000 to help Christine O’Donnell win the GOP primary over Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware, but analysts and polls predict she’ll lose to Democrat Chris Coons.
In Alaska, the Tea Party Express spent nearly $600,000 to help Joe Miller defeat GOP Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She’s now defying her own party to run a write-in campaign in hopes of retaining her seat — a move that could give Democratic nominee Scott McAdams a better chance at victory.
Kremer said the Tea Party will continue to prove naysayers wrong, partly because the conservative candidates are focused on cutting spending and the size of government, and not on social issues such as anti-abortion and other religion-based views that give swing, nonpartisan voters pause.
“This isn’t about social issues,” Kremer said. “This is about fiscal discipline and the economy that’s affecting every one of us. That’s why most people are going to the polls, including many Democrats for fiscal responsibility.”