As the 2012 election cycle has progressed, one of the growing memes on the left has been that the Tea Party has lost a lot of the anti-establishment momentum it had in 2010, when it was responsible for electing U.S. Senators like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Kentucky’s Rand Paul, and Florida’s Marco Rubio. The pundits have been a little quick on the trigger finger.
Last week, 35-year Senate veteran Richard Lugar went down to defeat in Indiana at the hands of the Tea Party candidate, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock, a race that we chronicled at length here at CFIF. Today, voters heading to the polls in Nebraska may deliver a similar shock to the GOP establishment.
The establishment choice, state Attorney General Jon Bruning, has been under fire for exactly the kind of crony capitalism that has come to define Tea Party distaste for business as usual. It was long thought that State Treasurer Don Stenberg — who enjoyed the support of Jim DeMint’s Senate Conservatives Fund, FreedomWorks, and the Club for Growth — would be the conservative alternative to Bruning. But in recent days, Bruning’s numbers are falling without Stenberg’s rising proportionately.
The reason is a third candidate, State Senator Deb Fischer, who has recently emerged from relative obscurity thanks to endorsements from Sarah Palin and Congressman Jeff Fortenberry. According to recent polling, there’s a very real possibility of Fischer pulling off an upset of epic proportions and walking away with the nomination. And while Stenberg’s supporters aren’t happy to see their man failing to close, they’re already suggesting that Fischer would be an acceptable alternative to Bruning and the business as usual he represents.
We’ll have to watch the polls tonight to see how this thing resolves, but one thing’s for sure: even the worst-case scenario for Tea Partiers (a narrow win by Bruning) would send a powerful message to the GOP establishment in Washington: the Tea Party is here to stay.