O'Donnell Aside, Don't Dismiss Tea Party, Pundits Say

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country we bring you the unmissable quotes from political conversations on WNYC. On today's Brian Lehrer Show, USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page and ABC News' political director Amy Walter said while some Tea Party candidates selected in last week's Republican primaries may seem fringy, others are a serious force that may well take office in Janaury.

For an example, Susan Page says you only need to look to Florida. 

You know, all Tea Party candidates are not created equal. It's hard to imagine Christine O'Donnell winning most any election. But I was down in Flordia for a couple days last week, we thought that Senate seat was Charlie Crist's to have but he got pushed out of the Republican party. Initially there was some thought that Crist, who's a popular moderate governor might be able to run as an independent, but I tell you, Marco Rubio now has a double digit lead in the last four polls taken in the state of Florida. He's seems to be pulling away. He comes across as a conservative, but not a crazy.


Rubio won the Republican primary for U.S. Senator with a little over a million votes. There are 3.9 million registered Republicans in the Florida, 4.6 million registered Democrats and 11.1 million registered voters overall.

Amy Walter said tracking the Tea Party is complicated because the definition of Tea Party candidate is amorphus and many candidates with long political careers try to cozy up to the anti-tax, anti-government groups.

The problem with categorizing the Tea Party as a movement is the fact that it is not an actual party. It doesn't have discernible leaders, I mean there are people who are self-appointed leaders. But there is not just a, you don't have an elected group of people with a platform and an agenda where we can point to these people as true Tea Party candidates.


Alex, who called the show from Jamaica, Queens, identified himself as a Tea Party voter and said New Yorkers don't understand the appeal of the movement and are discounting its importance.

I think people, especially in New York City are misunderstanding the Tea Party and misunderstanding the candidates, and I think they seem to be the only people whom a large percentage of the population really believes either has their best interests in mind, or at very least doesn't have more worse things set up for them. I really do think this is from the grassroots and these people, these representatives, these canidates really are representative of the people of the United States right now.


Estimates of Tea Party allegiance vary. According to an April poll by CBS News and New York Times, four percent of Americans have been to a Tea Party rally, and 16 percent of the nation identify as Tea Party supporters.

In Delaware Christine O'Donnell, who is running for U.S. Senate won 30,563 votes in the Republican primary. That's 16 percent of the Delaware's 182,796 registered Republicans and 4.9 percent of all the state's 621,000 registered voters.

In New York, Carl Paladino won 273,287 votes in the Republican primary, according to the New York Times (the New York State Board of Elections won't certify results until September 27). That's roughly 10 percent of registered Republicans, or 2.5 percent of New York State's 10.6 million registered voters.

Listen to the entire discussion on The Brian Lehrer Show.