Clearly, this isn't an election season favoring establishment politicians. But the past week has shown Republican leaders that there are hazards in embracing an anti-establishment slate of candidates as well, as the misadventures of a clutch of tea party–backed candidates have party strategists worrying whether, come November, they'll be ready for prime time.
Vaughn Ward, a GOP congressional candidate in Idaho who garnered the coveted endorsement of tea party icon Sarah Palin, has previously drawn flak for allegedly cribbing policy statements from the platforms of other candidates. That scandal was enough to prompt elected Republicans to start pressuring him to drop out of the race prior to next Tuesday's primary balloting. And now the heat is back on for Ward, after a GOP state Senate candidate named Lucas Baumbach has released a damning mash-up video appearing to show Ward borrowing whole lines from Barack Obama's famous 2004 Democratic Convention address:
For Republican leaders still awkwardly struggling to contain the fallout from Kentucky Senate nominee Rand Paul's rapid-fire set of gaffes about his position on the 1964 Civil Rights Act, this latest Ward revelation was unwelcome news indeed. And unfortunately for them, that's not the half of it. It's true that the right holds no monopoly on embarrassing revelations about candidates' missteps — Eric Massa, anyone? But it's also true that with the upsurge of movement activism in GOP primaries, the risk of such unwelcome disclosures seems also to be on the upswing.
In North Carolina, for example, Republican officials are trying to kill the congressional candidacy of tea party–backed Tim D'Annunzio. D'Annunzio has galvanized an activist base behind his run — and taken in more money from individuals than his primary opponent. But the state's GOP chief says he "has disqualified himself by his background, his record and his behavior" — and state GOP officials have sought to make that case in lurid fashion, publicizing documents from D'Annunzio's messy 1995 divorce in which his wife claimed he smoked marijuana every day and developed bizarre religious beliefs. She alleged, for example, that D'Annunzio was convinced that he was the Messiah, and that God would drop a giant pyramid on Greenland.
In Arizona, tea party–backed former congressman J.D. Hayworth got himself in trouble when he insisted at a meeting with voters that the United States hadn't technically declared war on Germany during World War II. Hayworth, who is challenging incumbent GOP Sen. John McCain from the right, was wrong about that. An opponent posted video of the gaffe:
And finally, in South Carolina the tea party–favored Republican candidate for governor, Nikki Haley, has found herself caught up in a scandal after a prominent blogger claimed that he and the married candidate had an "inappropriate relationship." Haley flatly denies the claim, but blogger Will Folks claimed Tuesday that he has "phone records, text messages, emails and voice mails" that prove the affair happened. What makes this drawn-out scandal especially strange is that Folks says he strongly supports Haley's candidacy.
It's still early in the campaign season, so some of these incidents will no doubt prove more damaging than others. But as the candidates favored by movement activists prepare to join forces with the GOP establishment to make the final push into the general election season, don't be surprised to see a bouncer or two doing background checks outside the tea party door.
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