The Tea Party is alive and kicking. House Speaker John Boehner can’t help but notice that Representative Jean Schmidt, one of his fellow GOP House members from the Cincinnati area, just went down to defeat at the hands of a political neophyte. Brad Wenstrup is a physician and Iraq War veteran whose only prior political experience was in a losing race for mayor of Cincinnati.
Jean Schmidt had a conservative social and economic voting record in her seven years in Congress, winning “zero” ratings from liberal groups and an 88 percent rating from the National Taxpayers Union in 2010. But she had vulnerabilities, including votes to raise the debt ceiling and for the Wall Street bailout, support for the pro-union Davis-Bacon Act, and a record of supporting tax increases when she was in the state legislature. She was also dogged by accusations she had accepted free legal help from a Turkish-American interest group, although she was cleared of wrongdoing by the House Ethics Committee. But the real mark against her was that she was a Washington incumbent.
Wenstrup hammered Schmidt from the right, and his opposition to pork-barrel spending and support for a flat tax won him the backing of the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of tea-party groups. But Schmidt still had an overwhelming financial advantage, outspending Wenstrup by three-to-one in the last Federal Election Commission report.
But an equalizer arrived in the form of a $241,000 expenditure by a super PAC called the Campaign for Primary Accountability, a group of tea-party donors which is dedicated to using primaries to oust complacent, longtime incumbents of both parties.
As a candidate, Wenstrup also had personal appeal. A physician, he served as a combat surgeon in Iraq, winning a Bronze Star for his service. While he had no experience as an elected official, he had won 46 percent of the vote in a losing race for mayor of Cincinnati in 2009 against a Democratic incumbent.
Schmidt’s loss is a direct consequence of the abysmally low approval ratings that Congress and other Washington insiders have with the public. Incumbents of both parties have reason to be nervous if they can be tied to the status quo.
For its part, the Campaign for Primary Accountability has other targets in its sights. In a primary next week, it is opposing Alabama Republican Spencer Bachus, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, who was a centerpiece of a recent investigation by BigGovernment.com and CBS’s 60 Minutes into insider trading in stocks by members of Congress.