There’s a Tea Party in Alexandria?
Republicans enjoyed a wave of election success nationally Tuesday, but with local gains non-existent, self-described “Tea Partiers” now turn their attention to city and state issues.
Given the much-hyped anti-incumbency backlash heading into the 2010 mid term elections, AJ Kearney, co-organizer of The Alexandria Tea Party, expected fiscally conservative voters with an eye toward promoting limited government and free markets would give 10-term Democratic Congressman Jim Moran a run for his money.
Not long after polls opened, he realized that wasn’t going to happen.
“We were surprised by [Moran’s] margin of victory,” he said. “I was standing in front of a polling station handing out literature and by 11 a.m. I started to think ‘there’s a lot of Democrats coming by here.’”
Republican challenger Patrick Murray picked up 37.3 percent of the electorate, not nearly enough to match Moran, who earned 116, 269 votes or 61.01 percent of the ballots cast. While Kearney expected a better showing for Murray, Moran’s victory at the polls didn’t come out of the blue.
There are two things to remember, he says: Democrats have had a lot of practice preparing for elections in what’s considered a safe seat for the party and local Tea Party enthusiasts didn’t have a lot of time to learn in the run up to the vote.
With the post-election hangover still settling in, Kearney worries fellow activists will lose interest, put away their placards and call it a year. There’s work to be done on the local level, even in a safe district for Democrats, he said.
“We’re trying to offset it by making sure people understand we’ve got a number of things on the docket we need their help on,” Kearney said. “There’s a definite movement, at least in the Virginia Tea Party, to basically get more local. Our focus is not just on national elections, it’s more concentrated on the state and local levels.”
At the moment, that means supporting Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s legal challenge of the recently passed health care reform bill and working with other Tea Party groups promoting a small government agenda at the state level, he said.
They’re also extending an olive branch of sorts to their political opponents. Former Alexandria resident and founder of the Northern Virginia Tea Party, Ron Wilcox wants to bridge the partisan divide with incumbents like Moran.
“The question isn’t just are with the politicians, but are they with us,” he said. “Each of those people has a vote on Capitol Hill, whether we agree with them or not. We respect the voice of the American people on these elections and we are going to continue to urge our elected officials to return to limited government.”
When 2012 rolls around, Michael Ginsberg, 8th District Republican Party chair, expects to see many of the same faces and local groups turn out to volunteer, man phone banks and go door-to-door. Until the issues driving the grassroots activism disappear, they’ll stick around on the political stage, he said.
“Certainly, they were an enormous asset to our candidates,” Ginsberg said. “I see them as staying around for as long as these issues are active. I don’t think the issues that are motivating the Tea Party will have gone away [by 2012]. They will remain active.”
It’s too soon to see whether Alexandria’s Tea Party organization will back a candidate in the next election cycle, Kearney said. He won’t put an exact figure on the number of Tea Partiers in the city — a couple of hundred, he says — but they’re preparing for the future.
He laughed at Moran’s acceptance speech analysis of Murray’s campaign as doomed by “extremist Tea Party views.”
“We can’t tell them don’t do that, we just got to concentrate on organizing,” Kearney said. “We just think we have a better ideas.”