COLUMBUS: Throughout primary Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, we will be reading the Tea Party leaves in Ohio to determine whether the movement has the strength and unity to influence the outcome of elections.
And no race tests that hypothesis more than the Republican primary for state auditor between Seth Morgan and David Yost.
Morgan is a freshman state lawmaker from Huber Heights, near Dayton. He quickly made a name for himself when he sued Gov. Ted Strickland after the administration refused to turn over public records regarding the new school-funding formula.
In 2009, Morgan was the keynote speaker at the April 15 Tea Party rally in downtown Dayton. While many politicians, including conservatives, were trying to test the wind before joining the new movement, Morgan didn’t hesitate. One could argue he was a Tea Partyer before it was cool.
”It’s an expression of the frustration people have that their government is not listening,” Morgan said. ”The stakes are high, and I’m anxious for victory because it will give the Tea Party a certain degree of validation.”
Yost is the endorsed candidate of the Ohio Republican Party. Normally, the power, finances and reach of the state party would be enough to squash opposition from someone like Morgan.
The party has purchased and posted mailers listing its endorsed candidates that include a photo of Yost, and he has received contributions and other support from the state GOP.
Yost also has received endorsements from several Northeast Ohio daily newspapers, including the Beacon Journal, some county Republican parties, and even former gubernatorial candidate J. Kenneth Blackwell, whom the Yost campaign refers to as an icon of conservatism.
The campaign is trying to distinguish between the two candidates by focusing on Yost’s extensive career and long-time activity in the Republican Party. He is currently the Delaware County prosecutor.
”Dave Yost put five corrupt politicians in Delaware County behind bars,” said Brent Swander, a campaign spokesman.
Swander said Yost is warmly embraced by Tea Partyers.
”Dave shares the Tea Party’s values,” Swander said.
The Tea Party pillars are a fiscally responsible government, support for small government, backing for a free market and a respect for the U.S. Constitution.
And it appears these ideas are the same as those of most Republican candidates for office in Ohio and elsewhere, but the Tea Party leaders and members do not believe candidates who claim to embrace conservative ideas when their records reflect something different.
There was a time when Yost was one of the Tea Party darlings in Ohio. State Auditor Mary Taylor had yet to announce she would forgo a reelection campaign to join John Kasich as the lieutenant governor candidate on the gubernatorial ticket and Yost was a candidate for attorney general, running against former U.S. Sen. Michael DeWine, R-Ohio.
DeWine is considered too moderate for the Tea Party and Yost was in position to take advantage of his opponent’s standing.
Instead, Yost jumped the ticket to run for state auditor against Morgan, and many Tea Party members felt betrayed.
Morgan received the Ohio Tea Party endorsement for auditor. He also has picked up support from numerous county Republican parties, including Summit.
Yost lashed out at Alex Arshinkoff, Summit County Republican chairman, for scheduling the screening process last month when he could not attend because he was in court prosecuting a corrupt politician in Athens County.
”The Summit County chairman proceeded with his process anyway, despite knowing I could not participate. He had previously personally endorsed my opponent. Summit County is widely regarded as one of the last true ‘machine’ counties in the state, and there was no doubt that the fix was in,” Yost stated in a late March news release.
Arshinkoff cannot be blamed for Morgan being endorsed by the county parties in Cuyahoga, Lake and Montgomery.
Taylor is also backing Morgan.
She has criticized a plan offered by Yost for the state auditor to be involved with the legislature and governor in drafting a two-year state budget.
Taylor believes there could be a conflict of interest if the auditor plays a role in writing the budget, but then must come in after and audit the state’s financial books.
With the back-and-forth between the campaigns, the Tea Party will be able to claim a big victory Tuesday night should Morgan win the chance to challenge Democrat David Pepper in November.
A loss may indicate the Tea Party is not as powerful as thought, but it won’t necessarily mean the end of the movement.
While a victory for Morgan would, in his words, validate the movement, the Tea Party would become even more influential should its candidate in the Republican primary for secretary of state prevail.
State Sen. Jon Husted, R-Kettering, a former Ohio House speaker, is running against Ashtabula County Auditor Sandra O’Brien, who four years ago knocked off State Treasurer Jeannette Bradley in the GOP primary.
Bradley had run afoul of conservative Republicans for her pro-choice views, among other issues. O’Brien is pro-life, pro-gun, anti-tax and anti-big government.
Husted has what is considered an insurmountable amount of money and a campaign organization that many believe is too strong for O’Brien.
Like most Republicans in the primary, Husted has attempted to downplay his party roots and reach out to the Tea Party.
In Husted’s case, the plan backfired and Tea Party leaders in Ohio called him out as an imposter.
Still, considering Husted’s resources and organization, it is an even longer shot for O’Brien to beat him than for Morgan to oust Yost.
So as you’re sifting through the dregs of election results Tuesday night, pay careful attention to the Republican battles for auditor and secretary of state.
A victory for Morgan will signal the Tea Party movement has arrived.
A win for O’Brien will indicate the Tea Party is going places as a political force and movement that must be acknowledged and respected
Dennis J. Willard can be reached at 614-224-1613 or email@example.com.
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Last week, President Obama signed historic health care reform legislation into law — but his legislative success doesn’t seem to have helped his image with the American public.
The latest CBS News Poll, conducted between March 29 and April 1, found Americans unhappier than ever with Mr. Obama’s handling of health care – and still worried about the state of the economy.
President Obama’s overall job approval rating has fallen to an all-time low of 44 percent, down five points from late March, just before the health bill’s passage in the House of Representatives. It’s down 24 points since his all-time high last April. Forty-one percent of those polled said they disapproved of the president’s performance.
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American politics reached a milestone when Ronald Reagan, then the Republican presidential nominee, traveled to a convention of evangelical Christians in Dallas in August 1980 and said something mainstream politicians hadn’t been willing to say previously: “I want you to know I endorse you and what you are doing,” Mr. Reagan told the 15,000 or so conservative church leaders there assembled.
From that point on, the “religious right,” earlier seen by many as almost a fringe movement, became an important force within an ascendant Republican coalition.
Republicans today are trying something similar with the Tea Party movement. Yet even as Republicans relish this thought, it’s worth remembering that, just as their embrace of the religious right created occasional heartburn alongside electoral success, so too does their slow embrace of the Tea Party movement carry downside risks as well as upside potential.
In particular, Republicans’ courtship of the Tea Party movement threatens to pull the party away from its moorings on two crucial and emotional issues: the war on terror and immigration.
On the terror front, many Tea Partiers question the very notion of a war on terror, and see some law-enforcement policies adopted in its pursuit as unacceptable intrusions on American liberties. On immigration, the close-the-borders rhetoric common within the Tea Party movement runs counter to what many in the GOP hope will be a renewed outreach to Hispanics.
It’s a mistake, of course, to talk of a unified Tea Party position, for the movement is neither unified nor organized enough to have clear positions.
Clearly the movement is marked by hostility to big government, and to the health-care overhaul being championed by President Barack Obama and his Democratic party in Congress. Just as clearly, those impulses make the Tea Party phenomenon a net plus for Republicans. But the areas of disconnect have gotten less attention.
In significant sectors of the broad Tea Party movement, the war on terror, and the intelligence and law-enforcement policies originally crafted by the administration of Republican President George W. Bush to fight it, arouse sentiments ranging from suspicion to hostility.
As much as anything, the Tea Party movement is animated by antipathy toward government intrusions into private lives, and for many that extends toward intrusions with the stated goal of smoking out terrorists.
On that front, the movement in some respects has more in common with libertarians than with traditional Republicans such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, tireless champion of the Patriot Act and aggressive tactics in rooting out terrorist threats.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington two weeks ago—an annual gathering of conservative activists that this year had a distinct Tea Party overlay—one panel discussion was entitled “Why Real Conservatives are Against the War on Terror.”
In a paper prepared for that event, Philip Giraldi, a former CIA officer now a fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance declared: “Fear has been the key to the door for expansion of government and government powers and the people in charge in Washington have seized the opportunity. It has also eroded the liberties that have defined us as a nation.”
Similarly, the Web site of Oath Keepers, an organization of present and former military and law-enforcement personnel who say there are some government orders they won’t follow, declares: “We will NOT obey any order to detain American citizens as ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ or to subject them to trial by military tribunal.”
In one sign of how these tensions can divide, former Rep. Bob Barr got a combination of cheers and boos when he delivered a speech at the CPAC gathering urging that Americans “not be seduced by that siren of security over freedom.”
Immigration opens similar fissures between the Tea Party movement and the Republican establishment. That was clear when former Rep. Tom Tancredo, an outspoken advocate of a crackdown on immigration, was a prominent speaker at the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville last month. In fact, his remarks were entitled, “Thank God John McCain Lost!”
Mr. Tancredo declared that if Republican nominee McCain had won last year’s presidential election, he and Rep. Luis Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat, “would have been posing in the Rose Garden with big smiles as they received accolades from La Raza for having finally passed an amnesty” for illegal immigrants. Moreover, he added, Mr. McCain and Mexican President Felipe Calderon “would be toasting the elimination of those pesky things called borders and major steps taken toward creation of a North American Union.”
That is cringe-producing rhetoric for Republicans who are straining to show they are, simultaneously, tough on illegal immigration yet empathetic with the nation’s growing bloc of Hispanic voters.
And yes, that’s important to, among others, Mr. McCain, who faces a tough election this year not for the White House, but to keep his Senate seat in Arizona, a state with a heavy Hispanic population.
As political parties have learned repeatedly over the years, the virtue of independent, grass-roots movements is that they can activate legions of previously apathetic voters. The problem with those independent movements is that they are exactly that—independent.
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A2
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