In Florida, the Tea Party’s Still Got It

by John Fund

The Tea Party had a mixed showing in primaries last night, as Tommy Thompson won his Senate primary in Wisconsin, and House Transportation Committee chairman John Mica won his Florida primary against Sandy Adams, a freshman who zinged Mica as an earmarker.

But the Tea Party bagged a big trophy in Florida, as Representative Cliff Stearns was turfed out after 24 years in Congress by a little-known tea partier who had raised only $124,000 by the end of July. Veterinarian Ted Yoho of Gainesville spent his limited resources widely, airing a commercial called “Pigs.” It featured footage of politicians and lobbyists in suits literally feeding at a pig sty, and highlighted Yoho’s goals of repealing Obamacare and limiting himself to eight years in office.

Stearns played the role of the Imperial Incumbent to the hilt during his campaign. He boasted that as of late July he had raised $2.1 million, far exceeding the total of his three opponents. He spurned debates, sending his spokesman Paul Flusche out to say: “Given that his time in Florida is currently limited by his duties, Representative Stearns will determine how best to share his conservative record with the people of District 3 and encourages his opponents to decide how to make their own cases as well.”

But Stearns came under fire for being an ineffective legislator, despite his chairmanship of the Energy Committee’s Oversight panel. He also became embroiled in an ugly controversy in which one of his rivals claimed that Stearns had tried to bribe him to get out of the race.

In the end, Stearns won only 34 percent of the vote, a dramatic fall from the crushing 71 percent he won only two years ago in his primary. The lessons of Florida’s primary for incumbents seem to be that those who run scared survive, while those are caught napping become political road kill. 

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