Tea partiers won some and lost some last night, but their influence was strong enough to make a statement: the movement has made a difference.
Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle lost by healthy margins, but Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, and others won big. Voters from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin elected politicians with a distinctly conservative bent — one that was clearly influenced by the tea party.
“This is an organic movement. I don’t think that they can be characterized as anything other than having had a very dramatic effect,” said Rep. Steve King, (R-Iowa), who won his election handily last night and has emerged as a national tea party favorite.
In Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey eked out a lead that was hard-fought and late-breaking; returns showed him behind his competitor until midnight. He was widely characterized as being “too conservative” for Pennsylvania, which is generally a more moderate purple state. He tried to downplay that reputation as the campaign came to a close.
“It is important to note that tonight’s victory was not a partisan victory,” said Toomey, in his victory speech. “I could not have won with only Republican votes. It was because of Republicans and Democrats and Independents that we are celebrating here tonight… I will be a Senator for all Pennsylvanians.”
Marco Rubio has tempered his early primary message as well, and managed to earn widespread appeal among those who don’t even associate with the tea party. But it’s clear the tea party put him in office. His early appeal to conservative media and his impeccable grassroots outreach was made possible because of the movement, which came about at just the same time that Rubio hit the national scene.
Sean Duffy and Allen West were two House races that emphasized tea party support; Duffy solidified tea party support in Wisconsin’s 7th district after a fractious primary — the same can almost be said of Republican Senator-Elect Ron Johnson, at the top of the Wisconsin ticket. Allen West won because of grassroots support in Florida; his defeat of Democrat Ron Klein in Florida’s 22nd district was a push towards the right that will be an interesting fit for independent Sunshine State voters.
If Joe Miller and Ken Buck win their yet-undecided contests in Alaska and Colorado, the tea party’s emphasis will be even more pronounced.