Republican primaries this cycle have led to a motley group of conservative victors with wildly different backgrounds and levels of political expertise. Rather than panic, we should all dance the funky chicken. Their political and professional diversity represents a massive boon for the GOP.
Instead of polished candidates, we get genuine grassroots activists. Instead of cookie-cutter politicos, we get candidates who sometimes turn their talking points off. Instead of made-to-order robots that vote where the wind takes them, we get human beings with real-life experience.
This recipe has led to the nomination of an evangelical grandmother, a wrestling entertainment tycoon, and an anti-bicycling public prosecutor as our GOP candidates in this fall’s elections. No one would’ve thought that Sharron Angle, Linda McMahon and Dan Maes could ever be looped under the same umbrella – the same Republican umbrella, no less. But they are our party’s leaders in a cycle that is anything but predictable.
“When you actually show you have a human side to you, it says you will go to Washington and be a real person,” said Leslie Hollywood, director of the northern Colorado tea party, who helped propel Ken Buck to victory in the GOP primary over Jane Norton. Buck was famous for making an off-the-record comment about his frustration with the birther movement, and for supposedly wanting to eliminate the Department of Education.
Hollywood said Bucks’ comments were blown wildly out of proportion, and if nothing else represented the more genuine side of a candidate who truly stood for the principles of conservative Colorado voters. That’s why Buck, despite raising less than half as much money as Norton, was able to take the cake.
“One of the reasons I felt that [Norton] never really gained that much grassroots support was because she always worked off talking points, and she was handled so closely that you couldn’t get close enough to her and ask a real question,” she added.
That’s not what you’ll hear from the average political commentator. “Will its offbeat candidates hurt GOP?” asked one Politico headline. “Will Tea Party Label Hurt in Midterm Elections?” asked ABC. Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine said GOP candidates were downright "wacky,” and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the GOP had elected “candidates that are largely out of step with the states and areas that they wish to ultimately represent.”
Those comments don’t jibe with the polls, who show Buck beating Democratic opponent Michael Bennet 46-40 in Colorado, and Rand Paul leading Jack Conway by nine percent. Angle is in a dead heat with Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
There’s always the other side of the coin, of course. A Quinnipiac poll showed McMahon ten points behind opponent Richard Blumenthal – a spread that used to be 20 points, but it’s still depressing. And Dan Maes is trailing John Hickenlooper 50 percent to 38 percent in the Colorado governors race.
But with a mix of highs and lows, its clear that oddball candidates are certainly not a liability for a party poised for rebound. If anything, their quirkiness makes them more legitimate.
Jen Ezzell, a tea party member in Connecticut, said McMahon’s background in wrestling entertainment was just one aspect of a much larger package.
“I have to say that we all are, to some degree, oddballs, and how a person made their money – as long as it wasn’t illegal, it’s fine,” said Ezzell. “They show how capitalism can work, and that’s what we’re trying to show our government – that capitalism can work, not government intervention.”