The media narrative of the Establishment versus Tea Party in Republican primaries misses what is really happening. The Tea Party movement has morphed from staging rallies to direct action and is learning in every campaign cycle. Take Wisconsin for example. In Wisconsin, the Tea Party knocked off 35-year Congressional incumbent Tom Petri by forcing a primary. Rep. Tom Petri decided not to run for re-election rather than face a serious Tea Party backed primary challenger this fall. Make no mistake, the Tea Party is winning in Wisconsin, but the media won’t tell you that.
The Tea Party in Wisconsin has been battle-tested and forced into organizing through Wisconsin’s protests and recalls. Because of its efforts, many credit the Tea Party for significantly helping Gov. Scott Walker to become the first governor in US history to defeat a recall and in the meantime increasing his win margin from his initial 2010 election. The Left unknowingly provided the Wisconsin Tea Party groups with opportunities to mature and become a more powerful political force.
Congressman Tom Petri had gone largely unchallenged in Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District until recently. He won a special election in 1979 and had a largely moderate voting record. He voted for single payer healthcare, Cash for Clunkers, Head Start expansion, Obama’s Stimulus for an Education Jobs Fund, and in favor of Obama’s War on Coal, to name a few of his moderate votes.
In 2012, however, Petri received a primary challenge from Lauren Stephens, a tea party connected candidate. Without any name recognition or much funding, she still garnered 18% of the primary vote. Some of the tea party leaders in the district got involved in this race, but many thought she had little chance of winning.