The tea party was 0-2 in the highest profile races in the Akron area in Tuesday’s primary.
State Sen. Frank LaRose easily defeated tea-party-supported challenger Caleb Davenport, winning Summit and Stark counties and only narrowly losing in Wayne, Davenport’s home county. U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce beat state Rep. Matt Lynch, claiming five counties to Lynch’s two, including a win in Geauga, where both men live, according to unofficial results.
But, the tea party had a few wins as well, scoring five Ohio House seats, several Republican State Central Committee spots and a few local races across the state.
“It was mixed results for the tea party,” said John Green, executive director of the University of Akron’s Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. “It was not the kind of breakthrough they had hoped for.”
Green said the tea party had similar mixed results in the other primaries nationwide Tuesday, with all of them painting the tea party candidate as the more conservative choice to the party-backed incumbent.
The question now is, with the primary over, what happens next for the tea party and the Republican Party? The answer to this question, perhaps not surprisingly, differs based on who’s answering it.
Tom Zawistowski, executive director of the Portage County TEA Party, said the loss in the 14th Congressional District race between Joyce and Lynch was particularly disappointing. He said Lynch, who claimed about 45 percent of the vote, performed well, despite being significantly outspent.
“I don’t think there’s any shame in that,” Zawistowski said. “We ran a great campaign. Our people did exactly what they should have done.”
Zawistowski, though, said the tea party had 68 people run in offices from the state central committee to Congress who started to “build an infrastructure” for future campaigns.
“We knew we were just taking a little baby step,” he said. “All we wanted to do was get anybody to put their name on the ballot. That is not easy. A lot won’t do it. We did that and won five house races, central committee races, local races. I’m happy.”
Zawistowski is hoping the Republican Party will acknowledge the value of the tea party’s grass-roots work and listen to the tea party members’ issues.
“The ball’s in their court,” he said. “We were supporting people who believe in the things we believe in, working for people we liked, as opposed to having the party say, ‘Here’s the candidate, go out and work like heck for them.’ It’s more fun losing for people we actually like.”
Chris Schrimpf, the spokesman for the Ohio Republican Party, downplays any gains the tea party is claiming and points with pride to the party’s results. He said LaRose and Joyce “deserve the support of Republicans and got it.”
Schrimpf also continues to question the influence of Zawistowski, who made an unsuccessful bid to become the state GOP chairman last year.
“What we saw was that Tom Z is not the tea party,” he said. “The tea party is part of the Republican Party. We saw them come home. Their natural home is the Republican Party.”
Schrimpf noted that Zawistowski encouraged his followers in an email to not vote for Kasich in the primary, yet Kasich, who was unopposed, drew 554,527 votes.
Schrimpf predicts the Republican Party will continue moving forward with the support of the tea party.
“They want to see lower taxes, less government, less regulation,” he said. “That is what the Republican Party has been delivering.”
Green predicts the struggle between the tea party and more moderate Republicans will continue. He said, based on discussions he’s had with tea party supporters, that most would rather continue pushing for change within the Republican Party than to join another third party, like the Constitution Party or Libertarians, or form a new minor party.
Green thinks the tea party’s gains, however slight, in Tuesday’s primary will be enough to keep the movement active at least through 2016, which will be a pivotal year with a push by the Republican Party to gain control of the U.S. Senate and a wide-open GOP presidential primary.
“That’s going to be critical as to whether the tea party stays vital and has enough success to keep going,” he said. “The tea party will either find a role it can fit in or they won’t.”
Green said the Republican Party leaders have “a good deal of work to do to solidify a coalition” to be successful in November and then, looking forward, in the presidential election year.
“This all may come to a head in 2016,” he said. “I have no idea how it’s going to work out.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.