Tea Party Group Targets Top Dems for November Defeat

By Matt Cover | April 15, 2010 | 3:53 PM EDT

Laura Christy wears a hat decorated with tea bags as she attends a Tea Party tax day rally in Nashville, Tenn., on Thursday, April 15, 2010, the day income taxes are due. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

(CNSNews.com) – The Tea Party Express announced that it will be organizing its followers to defeat top House and Senate Democrats up for re-election in November. Among the “Tea Party Targets” are Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.).
The group, which has campaigned heavily in Nevada and Massachusetts, announced its list of targets and heroes at a Thursday press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The list included 13 targets – all Democrats – and 14 heroes – all Republicans except for Rep. Walter Minnick (D-Idaho). The list had previously contained the names of Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) until each man announced his retirement.
Tea Party Express political director Sal Russo told the crowd that the group would employ a strategy of rewarding political friends and punishing political enemies.
“It’s a combination of rewarding our friends and punishing our enemies,” Russo said.
He added that the group’s aim was to attract as many like-minded people as possible, regardless of whether they are Republicans or Democrats, explaining that building a broad coalition was the only way for the group to achieve its policy goals.
“As someone who got his start working for on old actor in California back in 1966, when he eventually became president in 1980, it wasn’t Republicans – just Republicans – that allowed us to get the tax cuts and our success in defeating Communism. It was his ability to Democrats – the Blue Dog Democrats – to join with Republicans to create a conservative majority,” Russo said.
“So we can’t be just a Republican organization. We’ve got to be an influential force in both political parties,” he added.
Russo described the group as “a political movement, not a political party” saying that it was only concerned with fiscal and economic issues, not social or foreign policy. Anyone who adhered to the conservative economic values of the Tea Party would be welcomed by the group.
Reid is the group’s top priority for defeat in 2010, Russo said, telling CNSNews.com that the senior Nevada senator was at the top of the Tea Party “hit parade.”
“Harry Reid is, I think, still our prime number one on our hit parade. We started off, as I mentioned, with [Sen.] Chris Dodd who quit and [Sen.] Arlen Specter (D-Pa.) who changed parties and is now behind in the polls, and Harry Reid is behind in the polls.”
Russo said that Sens. Reid, Dodd, and Specter were the group’s top three targets, explaining that Dodd’s retirement and Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party left Reid alone at the top of the list.
“Those were our three. So if we can get rid of Chris Dodd, Harry Reid, and Arlen Specter, we’ll consider it a good year.”
Russo also expressed confidence in being able to defeat long-time Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), saying that Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) won Frank’s district in his 2009 special election.
Brown’s victory in Frank’s normally safe district put the seat in play, Russo explained, saying that the Tea Party Express hoped to pin part of the blame for the 2008 financial crisis on Frank, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
“The Barney Frank district, which you normally would think would be pretty safe for a Democrat, you know, Scott Brown won that district so we see opportunities there that – given his culpability for what he did in the housing crisis and his responsibility for that – we have a chance of winning a seat that normally we couldn’t win,” Russo told CNSNews.com.
Russo said that the campaign against veteran Democrats such as Frank and Reid would advance, “a day at a time,” exploiting political opportunities where they arose and bringing a “full court press” to bear as the election neared, just as the group did in Brown’s victory in Massachusetts.
“We’ve got to take it a day at a time,” he said. “Politics changes, and so you have to seize your opportunities when they come. Look at the Scott Brown race – nobody thought we had a chance … I knew that you could win as a Republican in that state, but it was really tough.
“As I watched it develop over the course of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I thought, ‘You know, I think we have a shot here’ so as soon as the new year was over we said, ‘Let’s give it a shot. We can make it interesting. If we can make it interesting maybe we can win it,’” Russo added.
“And we got in, and the polls narrowed, and so we went to full court press. We’ll have to be flexible,” he said.