GOP Senators: Johnson’s Defeat Not a Loss for the Tea Party

by Betsy Woodruff

The victory of Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) in the race for vice chairman of the Senate Republican conference doesn’t spell the end of the Tea Party’s influence on Capitol Hill, according to GOP lawmakers. In fact, the loss of Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), that candidate preferred by conservative activists, says little about the group’s clout in Washington.

Johnson said that Tea Party members should only be “temporarily” disappointed by his defeat. “But then, let’s get energized,” he told reporters following the vote, which was held by secret ballot at the weekly Republican lunch meeting. “Let’s get out there, let’s send some more allies here to Washington so we can fix this mess.”

But not everyone saw it as a defeat for grassroots activists.

“I don’t think this was a Tea Party election,” said Sen. John Thune (R., S.D.), who was selected as chairman of the GOP conference. “I think it was very much an election between two very qualified people who had attributes that made a lot of sense for our leadership, which made it a very difficult decision.”

Blunt’s victory had more to do with his political acumen than anything else, senators said, namely his 14 years of experience in the House of Representatives, including brief stints as majority whip and majority leader.

“Roy is an extremely conservative Senator, a budget-cutter and a tax-cutter, and I feel that it’s not only where you are ideologically, which is for smaller government and less spending, it’s also, can you bring almost all of 47 Rrepublican Senators now to a position?” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R., Ill.). “Or more importantly — it’s likely we’ll win the senate next year, so can you bring a majority of the Senate when Republicans take control? Roy is the consummate master of majority politics.”

Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.), who supported Johnson, said she still feels optimistic about the party’s leadership.

“We couldn’t lose either way,” she said. “They’re both already talking about how they can work together on behalf of our conference, so I think it was a good election and it was a friendly election between two friends, and I congratulate Roy. I know he’ll do an excellent job.”

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