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A Moderate Resurgence, Thanks to the Tea Party

Interesting new piece in Mother Jones suggesting that Tea Party activism could be giving an unintended boost to moderate Republicans in the Northeast. But the story, which touches down in New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, does not make more than passing reference to Rhode Island - just another sign that the state's GOP is, to date, fumbling a once-in-a-generation attempt to make inroads in an anti-incumbent environment. From the story:

After Rand Paul crushed his opponent in Tuesday's Republican Senate primary in Kentucky, he crowed that his victory was "a message from the Tea Party." Pundits quickly branded Paul's triumph—which followed Republican Sen. Bob Bennett's primary defeat to a Tea Party-backed candidate in Utah—as evidence that right-wing conservative activists were tightening their hold on the GOP. But in midterm races throughout New England and the mid-Atlantic, the Tea Party movement could have a very different—and unintended—beneficiary: moderate Republicans.

It wasn't that long ago that political observers were busily penning obituaries for Northeastern Republicans, who for many years formed much of the party's moderate wing. During the George W. Bush years, the Republican Party became increasingly conservative and insistent on party discipline—and when Democrats made big gains in 2006 and 2008, moderate Republicans were the major casualties. In the Senate, Rhode Island's stalwart centrist, Lincoln Chafee, lost his seat in 2006. The House’s last New England Republican, Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), was voted out in 2008. "There is no place in the GOP now for the moderates," one Boston University political historian declared. "The brand is dead in New England."

But this year, anti-incumbency fervor—fueled on the right by the Tea Party movement—could bring the Northeastern moderates back from the dead. Republicans with centrist credentials are making strong bids for a number of recently vacated Democratic swing seats—and the Tea Party could aid their efforts.

Take former GOP Rep. Charlie Bass of New Hampshire, who's hoping to recapture the congressional seat he lost in the Democratic takeover of 2006. A pro-choice Republican who's advocated environmental protection and campaign finance reform, Bass has worked as an alternative energy consultant since leaving Congress. He's reinvented himself in 2010 as a bombastic critic of a Democrat-controlled Washington, frequenting Tea Party rallies across his district. "God bless every single one of them," Bass said of the Tea Partiers. "Their agenda is exactly the same as mine."

 

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