-By Warner Todd Huston
Political pundits and poll watchers all across the nation are abuzz with the “tea party win” of Rand Paul, winner of the Kentucky primary for U.S. Senator. Mr. Paul was not the party favored candidate but was supported by Kentucky’s Tea Party movement and this is being hailed as something of a first, an example that the incumbents are in trouble and the establishment is on the outs with voters. But the pundits seem to have entirely missed that this trend started in the nation’s first primary in Illinois back in February.
Three primary races in Illinois gave the first hint that the establishment candidates were going to find it hard sledding in 2010 because in the Illinois 14th, 10th and 8th Districts every party establishment candidate lost his or her primary and a tea party candidate or outsider won.
To be sure, the Illinois GOP is not much in favor with any of its voters, but the Illinois GOP has been nothing if not a power party that was always in the past able to force its own special picks down everyone’s throat in the Land of Lincoln. The 2010 primary, however, showed a chink in that armor.
In the 14th District the party powermongers lined up behind Ethan Hastert, the son of former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. Young Ethan Hastert had the support of party bigwigs and millions of dollars in campaign donations to fight the primary. Early in Hastert’s primary run many poll watchers imagined that the primary was just a formality for young Mr. Hastert and some were already talking of his race against incumbent Democrat Representative Bill Foster.
But Mr. Hastert lost quite handily to State Senator Randy Hultgren in a 54 to 46 percent final tally. Mr. Hultgren had to run as an outsider (even as he’s been in state politics since the 1990s) because the party chiefs wouldn’t support him for their support of Hastert. Hultgren, however, was the better candidate. He was well known by the voters having represented them in the capitol for years and for his good conservative record. (http://hultgrenforcongress.com). On the other hand, Mr. Hastert had no record, no community involvement and only his father’s name to bank on.
The party establishment in the 14th lost to the candidate running as an outsider.
A similar thing happened in the 10th District. Party support stood behind Beth Coulson to run against the Democrat in the 10th. Coulson was a rather liberal state rep in Lake County that the party establishment supported to take over Mark Kirk’s soon to be vacated seat. As far as the party leaders were concerned Coulson was liberal enough for the district and besides it was her turn. She proudly touted all her endorsements and party support during the primary but despite all that she lost to first time candidate Bob Dold, a self funded candidate that came on strong as the outsider. (www.doldforcongress.com)
As in the 14th the party establishment in the 10th lost to the candidate running as an outsider.
Finally, the same thing happened in the 8th District, this time with the help of the Palatine area tea party folks. In the 8th the GOP establishment was rooting for Long Grove Mayor Maria Rodriguez. She was the one to take on incumbent Representative Melissa Bean, or so thought party operatives. Unfortunately for the party powermen, outsider candidate Joe Walsh beat Rodriguez pretty convincingly in a 34 to 20 percent tally. Walsh was also a favorite of the tea party groups in the district. (http://walshforcongress.com)
What this shows is that unlike in past decades Republican voters in Illinois were not led by the nose by GOP Party bosses in this primary. In each of these three districts the party supported candidate lost and lost heavily. Voters revealed a contempt for party recommendations and chose outsiders and tea party candidates instead.
Kentucky was not the first hint that tea party folks and outsiders are finding favor in 2010 and that the political establishment is feeling an anti-incumbent and anti-establishment mood among the voters. It all started in Illinois.