POLITICS

Top Dems Suggest Tea Party Might Be More Bark Than Bite

05/20/2010 12:41 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Top Democrats at the various campaign committees are expressing more and more confidence that they can overcome the wave of anti-government populist sentiment unleashed by the Tea Party movement.

Part of that is due to a recognition that the job market is improving, which should improve the party's political fortunes. Another facet has to deal with the movement's occasional off-putting rhetoric. More and more, however, Democratic operatives are coming to the conclusion that for all the headlines that the Tea Party and its followers generate, it's not matched by the type of institutional structures that translate into electoral force. In short: the movement is more bark than bite.

Speaking at the National Press Club on Wednesday, DNC Chairman Tim Kaine alluded to this when he said the biggest surprise of Tuesday night's primary elections was that the loser in the Senate Democratic primary in Kentucky, Lt. Gov. Dan Mongiardo, actually earned more votes (221,269) than the winner in the state's Republican contest: Dr. Rand Paul (206,159).

In an interview with the Huffington Post on Wednesday, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) was even more explicit.

"The jury is still out" on whether the Tea Party has organizational muscle, he said. And part of the reason is that a fair amount of distrust still exists between the movement and the Republican Party.

"The Tea Party movement is right to be very suspicious of the Washington Republicans," said Van Hollen. "The Washington Republicans would love to use the Tea Party movement to meet their electoral goals and then walk away from some of the issues that the Tea Party movement stands for."

Though obviously partisan, this seems to be a fairly accurate reading of the current political landscape. The Tea Party movement has proven adept at rallying, inspiring and scaring voters to protest. But with respect to the nitty gritty aspects of organizing, the jury is still out (see Doug Hoffman, NY-23). What could change all that is the movement of the political process closer to the election -- at which point it seems conceivable that the Republican Party could lend its political infrastructure to those Tea Party candidates who head the ticket, and the Tea Party movement, in return, would drop its skepticism of the broader GOP cause.

Should this happen it could prove to be an intimidating electoral force. But with respect to the 2010 elections, Van Hollen said that Tuesday night's results (in which Democrats won a special election in Pennsylvania) gave him and others a fair amount of confidence.

"What we clearly saw was Republican hype ran into a brick wall of reality," he told the Huffington Post. "I mean, what I would say -- look, this remains a very challenging political environment, but their claim of somehow running the table just met reality and I think it's exposed a lot of the Republican hype with respect to 'This is going to be 1994 all over again.' And as Tom Davis, the former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee has pointed out in his comments today... I'll quote from him because, in that sense, you can hear it form the Republicans themselves. He said "If you can't win a seat like this, then where's the wave?" So when we say it, it sounds self-serving, so I'm going to let him."

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