Tea party antics could end up burning Republicans

The 2010 election brought scores of tea party-backed candidates into Washington.
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 28, 2010; 12:32 AM

The tea party's volatile influence on this election year appears to be doing more harm than good for Republicans' chances in some of the closest races in the nation, in which little-known candidates who upset the establishment with primary wins are now stumbling in the campaign's final days.

In Kentucky, a volunteer for tea-party-backed Senate candidate Rand Paul was videotaped stepping on the head of a liberal protester. In Delaware and Colorado, Senate hopefuls Christine O'Donnell and Ken Buck, respectively, are under fire for denying that the First Amendment's establishment clause dictates a separation of church and state. In Nevada, GOP Senate nominee Sharron Angle is drawing rebuke for running TV ads that portray Latino immigrants as criminals and gang members.

Perhaps the most dramatic tea party problems are in Alaska, where Republican Senate candidate Joe Miller is suffering another round of unfavorable headlines after it was revealed late Tuesday that he had admitted lying about his misconduct while working as a government lawyer in Fairbanks.

Miller was conducting his own poll in 2008 in an effort to oust a state GOP chairman, and he used his colleagues' computers to vote in the survey, then erased their computers' caches to try to hide what he had done.

"I was beyond stupid," he wrote in a letter of apology included in documents ordered released by a judge Tuesday. He was suspended for three days without pay, according to the documents.

Miller, who was considered a shoo-in just two months ago when he defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary, was already falling quickly in GOP and Democratic internal polls before Tuesday's revelations, strategists said. Last week, he was in the spotlight when a campaign-paid security guard handcuffed a reporter who tried to ask Miller a question.

Such moments are giving Democrats hope that the few undecided voters who remain may become turned off and move away from Republicans in the closer races nationwide, including those in Colorado, Nevada and Kentucky.

"In state after state, Republicans nominated a less viable general-election candidate, and that's more on display than ever in these final days of the campaign," said Eric Schultz, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Miller's latest travails are more likely to give the advantage to Murkowski, who began a write-in campaign shortly after her primary loss, than to Democrat Scott McAdams, the little-known mayor of Sitka. But even in Republican-leaning Alaska, no one is counting out McAdams: Both Murkowski and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which is backing Miller, are running ads targeting the Democrat.

The Miller campaign did not respond to inquiries Wednesday. But the Murkowski team jumped on the latest disclosure. "The bottom line is Joe cheated, he lied, tried to cover it up, lied again, then finally got caught and had to admit it, just as he lied to Alaskans when he initially denied any problems with his employment at the [Fairbanks North Star] Borough, claiming his record was 'exceptional' and 'second to none.' "

Miller's most ardent supporters say they are unfazed. Asked whether her group plans to pull its support for Miller, Amy Kremer, head of the national Tea Party Express group, said via e-mail: "Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, we are going back up on the air for Joe Miller because he is the only candidate addressing the important economic issues facing America while Lisa Murkowski is following the Democrat game plan around the country of only making vicious attacks on her opponent."

In addition, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin will appear with Miller on Thursday at a rally in Anchorage.

In Nevada, Angle's controversial advertisements about illegal immigrants are airing at a time when questions remain about racism and prejudice in the tea party. According to a canvass of 647 local tea party groups conducted by The Washington Post, 11 percent of organizers say President Obama's race, religion or ethnic background is very important or somewhat important to their members' participation in the movement.

Also on Wednesday, Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips came under fire for an Internet column published over the weekend in which he called for the defeat of Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) because he is Muslim.

"Ellison is one of the most radical members of Congress," Phillips wrote. "He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of Congress. He supports the Council for American Islamic Relations, HAMAS and has helped Congress send millions of tax dollars to terrorists in Gaza."

Ellison made the following statement late Wednesday: "I issue a call to civility, and urge Americans to reject the divisive rhetoric of Republican Tea Party leaders like Judson Phillips; including calls for my defeat solely because of my religion."

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