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How Will Tea Party Success in the Primaries Play out in November?

The Tea Party movement had another chance to show its influence in elections in last week's primary elections in 11 states across the country.

In Nevada, a Tea Party candidate knocked off a GOP competitor.

Some public policy experts and a political activist give their thoughts on what it means to the Tea Party movement.

Jason Gillman, Tea Party organizer of 9/12 Group of Traverse City:
I am absolutely encouraged. Even in those races where the quote-unquote Tea Party candidates didn't do so well, it got people involved and looking at the candidates.

It was the level of coverage based on the fact that we had the Tea Party involvement. The narrative has been moved by the abundance of Tea Party movements around the country from near ignoring these races in prior years to literally making them prime-time viewing.

It has an impact and it is not being ignored any longer. That's why it is encouraging.

Jarrett Skorup, research associate at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

The most important thing this primary told us is that the right is fired up; there were record turnouts in the Republican primaries for nearly every state. Meanwhile, with the exception of the contested Arkansas senate race, the Democrats were borderline apathetic; even nominating a homeless guy who had never heard of the TARP legislation and who is probably sure loser in South Carolina to face off against conservative lightening rod, Jim DeMint. The important thing in the upcoming months will be voter excitement, which helped President Obama so much in 2008. If Democrats are hoping to stem the tide in the coming congressional elections, they are going to need to excite the base.

Russ Harding, director of Property Rights Network at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

Tuesday night's primary elections have little to do with gender but much to do with voter frustration with the same old politics. The mainstream media evaluates most issues through the filter of race or gender. The vast majority of voters could care less about the gender or race of a candidate, but instead have become increasingly frustrated with politicians who put their own interests and those of special interest groups ahead of what is best for America. A candidate of either gender or any race can expect problems at the polls if they practice politics as usual.

Jack McHugh, senior legislative analyst, Mackinac Center for Public Policy:

The reigning paradigm for almost a century now has been that the limited government vision of our founding fathers was obsolete in a modern industrial state, and must be replaced by a big-government welfare/regulatory state. Today, from Greece to California to the Gulf of Mexico, the public is witnessing how the countless contradictions build into that system make it unsustainable. Increasing numbers of voters are no longer willing to accept the dishonesty and political hypocrisy that papered-over these contradictions.

That unwillingness is the essence of the Tea Party movement, and Tuesday's election results were an indication of how widely it has spread.

Paul Kersey, director of labor policy at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy:
Blanche Lincoln's win in Arkansas Democratic Senate Primary has been portrayed as a crushing defeat for labor unions. One unnamed White House advisor (most likely Rahm Emmanuel, but who really knows?) went so far as to liken the $10 million effort to money flushed down a toilet.

Please allow me to say, a la Lee Corso, "Not so fast!"

That it was a defeat is hard to deny.  Whether this is crushing for the union lobby is less clear.  Lincoln, whose opposition to the Employee Free Choice Act (a misnamed piece of legislation if there ever was one, but that's a whole other story) may well have been decisive in blocking what was labor's biggest priority on Capitol Hill, survived a primary challenge from union-backed Lt. Gov. Bill Halter.

But the race was close; the incumbent needed a runoff and only carried that by a 52.3 to 47.7 margin. And Arkansas is hardly a big labor state. Arkansas has a right-to-work law, and according to the union membership and coverage database, only 4.2 percent of Arkansas workers are union members — only North Carolina has a lower percentage. Arkansas also has relatively little in the way of government employee collective bargaining, which is increasingly the true power base of the union movement.

In other words, this is a tough state for unions to knock off an incumbent senator, and while they failed, they made things far more interesting than should be the case for an incumbent senator in a primary.

One should also bear in mind that from the union movement's perspective, $10 million isn't really all that much to flush down the toilet. Last year, the Michigan Education Association — the Michigan affiliate of the NEA — had a budget of $132 million, and that's not including the union's locals. That's just one state affiliate of one union. Union dues are typically several hundred dollars per member per year, and in most states, Michigan among them, workers can be forced to pay those dues as a condition of employment. Add in lax (or nonexistent) financial reporting rules, and the result is massive campaign war chests.

Blanche Lincoln still has what could be a tough general election, and she can figure on minimal union support, if any. But even if a Democratic party politician thinks he or she could get by with no actual union support, that politician will still be reluctant to risk anything that would arouse outright union opposition after looking at the Arkansas primary results. After all, if unions can make Blanche Lincoln sweat in Arkansas, imagine what they might be able to do in a place like Michigan.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.