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June 23, 2014 12:29 PM Tea Folk With a Lot at Stake

By Ed Kilgore

In a contest with so much local “flavor”—to use a neutral word for phenomena that include a lot of ghosts from Mississippi’s past—the battle between Thad Cochran and Chris McDaniel has a lot of very interested out-of-state participants. Today WaPo’s Ben Terris has a long look at the investment of national tea party groups—especially the Georgia-based Tea Party Patriots—in a McDaniels victory. To some extent, that’s because they’ve often been conspicuously absent in earlier high-profile contests, including the one that dumped Eric Cantor in Virginia:

“People say this is a big tea party victory,” Laura Ingraham said on Fox News about David Brat’s historic Republican primary win in Virginia against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. “So people, understand this: The national Tea Party Network, Tea Party Patriots, FreedomWorks — I don’t believe any of these organizations did anything for Dave Brat. Dave Brat couldn’t get Jenny Beth Martin, who is the head of the Tea Party Patriots, the largest tea party organization in the country — he couldn’t get her on the phone.”
Martin, 43, acknowledges that the organization did not put any money behind Brat. She says she met with him before the primary to say that they were all in on Mississippi, a marquee race with much better polling. And while she says she has no regrets about the decision, Ingraham’s criticisms clearly stung.

Martin’s also gotten flak for a high salary with fancy perks, which contrasts with her background as someone angered by “bailouts” even as she and her husband declared bankruptcy and cleaned houses for a living after a business failure. So you get the sense the Mississippi race is a bit of an existential challenge to the organized elements of the Tea Party:

A few nights earlier, Martin’s communications director, Kevin Broughton, over Coors Light and vodka shots, had been more emphatic.
“When did Laura Ingraham become Chris Matthews?” he asked, smoking a cigarette in one of the last bars in Jackson that allow it. “When did she love to hear the sound of her own voice so much?”
Such is the anguish of the Tea Party Patriots. The left hates them, the establishment wants to “crush” them (Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s word), and now conservative radio and Fox News have started calling them out. All this on the heels of a report in The Washington Post that national tea party groups were raking in money without doling much out to candidates themselves.

I appreciate Terris’ vivid picture of drinking vodka shots with Coors Lite (not my idea of a “shot and a beer”) in a smoky bar to get his story, which makes homebound writers like me feel a bit better about missing the campaign trail. But the “story” is really that if Chris McDaniel wins tomorrow, there will be quite the crowd on the rostrum at his victory rally.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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