The Tea Party landed on its face, last night, as its star candidate lost a winnable Virginia governor’s race Tuesday and as Gov. Chris Christie won big in New Jersey.

Republican Ken Cuccinelli ran against Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia, an important swing state test for the grassroots conservatives, but still fell short.  The result was a vivid reminder that the Tea Party has become a movement with largely regional and limited national appeal.  The antics of Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives during the recent shutdown of the Federal Government have also led to a backlash against radical Republicans who are bent on destroying our country to spite their face.

Cuccinelli was a model of what the Tea Party had eagerly sought as a feisty, unapologetic believer with a sterling resume.  He venomously supported limits on abortion clinics.  He was the first state attorney general to file suit against the hated Affordable Care Act.  He also recently challenged a researcher over climate change work.

But Cuccinelli struggled from start to finish in a race that Republicans should have won easily, up against a flawed Democratic candidate.

Christie, on the other hand, cruised to a big victory in New Jersey.  Christie demonstrated broad appeal, as polls found him doing well Tuesday among independents, women, racial minorities and others who Republicans have had trouble attracting.

Tea Party loyalists tend to loathe Christie because he embraced Obama last year after Super storm Sandy ravaged New Jersey, and he has also downplayed his conservative stands on social issues.

In Virginia, the Tea Party looked to reclaim the state that had been reliably Republican for decades.  Virginia has long had a strong social conservative wing, and the Tea Party appeared to thrive in certain pockets of the state.

Cuccinelli had another advantage: McAuliffe, dogged by controversial business deals, was hardly a favorite in his own party.  The 16-day government shutdown last month, which had a large impact on the state, stole the spotlight from Cuccinelli’s bid to make opposition to the Affordable Care Act a major issue, and incumbent Gov. Bob McDonnell’s ethical troubles took the once-popular Republican governor out of the campaign.  But, the deciding factor was that Cuccinelli could never shed that Tea Party label and it hurt him.  Exit polls showed more than four in 10 voters opposed the Tea Party, and they went 9 to 1 for McAuliffe.  Forty-four percent of voters called themselves moderates, and they broke nearly 2 to 1 for McAuliffe.

The result mirrored the trouble the Tea Party has had in general elections.  The roughly 4-year-old movement has never been able to duplicate its 2010 success, when it was at least partly responsible for electing 87 Republican freshmen to the House of Representatives, enough to give the party a majority it still holds.  Tea Party candidates, for example, have proved too extreme to win winnable general elections in swing states such as Delaware, Missouri and Nevada.

The Tea Party’s wish to change policy by holding this country hostage will ultimately be its downfall and yesterday’s results are only the beginning.

 

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