12.27.13 10:45 AM ET
Five Tea Party Challengers: The Ted Cruz Wannabes
Come 2014, these five ambitious Senate hopefuls might storm their way onto Capitol Hill and change the Republican Party, with Ted Cruz as their hero.
If Ted Cruz seems like a one-of-a-kind, give it time. A slew of young, hard-charging, Tea Party-endorsed Senate wannabes is looking to knock off the Republican establishment again in 2014. Some have better chances than others, but all have the unmistakable Cruzian commitment to refusing to toe the Republican Party line and make headlines while doing it. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you will.
Of all of the upstarts challenging Republican senators in 2014, something about Chris McDaniel makes him stand out from the rest. It may be his way of speaking, sort of Ted Cruz-meets-Joel Osteen-meets-Bill Clinton, a folksy, freedom-loving, doom filled warning for Mississippians that their way of life is disappearing on Thad Cochran’s watch. “The Republic is in trouble,” he said when he announced his run for the Senate. “You sense it. Millions of people feel like strangers in their land.”
The 41-year-old state senator also stands out for the support he’s gotten from Washington-based conservative groups at odds with the Senate Republican leadership. Within hours of Cochran’s announcement that he’d run for reelection, McDaniel had picked up endorsements from the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, Senate Conservatives Fund, Tea Party Express, and The Madison Project, making him the only candidate so far to receive all five.
Finally, as a lawyer and former nationally-syndicated talk radio host, McDaniel also stands out for the whistle-clean blows he delivers to anything he says isn’t expressly granted by the Constitution. Obamacare? “Kill the bill,” he told AFR Talk Radio. Increase the debt ceiling? “No chance.” His approach to legislating in Mississippi and D.C.? “No compromises, no surrenders.”
The Madison Project calls McDaniel the easiest challenger to get behind in 2014, in part because of his “uninfringeable desire to storm the castle,” a quality that could help him fit right in alongside now-veteran castle-stormers Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee if he makes it to D.C.
This 42-year-old radiologist is another favorite of Tea Party activists, in part because of the irony that the conservative doctor, who is running on an anti-Obamacare platform, is also a distant cousin of President Obama’s Kansas family.
With that distinction to his name, the one-time Rice County cow-milking champion is now running in the GOP primary against three-term incumbent Sen. Pat Roberts, a plain-talking conservative himself whom Wolf tags as insufficiently willing to go up against the party leadership when circumstances demand it.
In a column for Breitbart.com titled, “Sorry GOP, ‘R’ is Not Enough,” Wolf slammed Republicans, including Roberts, for “being complicit with tax hikes, earmark spending, endless borrowing, and debt ceiling increases.”
Wolf, who has been endorsed by the Senate Conservatives Fund and Madison Project, told Pajamas media that he’s a reluctant rebel against the machine. “I wish I didn’t have to do this … Our party let the country down.” But he added that Ted Cruz inspired him to believe Republicans can be different. “I was so proud of him, to see him in that 21-hour filibuster, that gave me great hope.”
Despite having degrees from Harvard (undergrad) and Yale (Ph.D.), a job as the country’s youngest college president, and a resume full of tours in the George W. Bush administration, Sasse (pronounced Sass) describes himself as a “right-wing conservative.” The Weekly Standard calls the polished 41-year old a “virtuoso,” while a number of Tea Party groups, including the Senate Conservatives Fund, have picked him as their favorite to replace the retiring Nebraska senator Mike Johanns in the crowded GOP primary.
Even with all of those accolades to his name, it may be his inadvertent feud with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell that has endeared Sasse the most to right-of-center activists, who see Sasse as a potential ideas factory along the lines of Paul Ryan (“but more conservative,” says one), who has also endorsed him. After producing a campaign video calling on “every Republican in Washington, starting with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, to show some actual leadership,” Sasse reportedly got an earful from McConnell and his aides at a Washington meet-and-greet. Although neither has confirmed the row, the episode has become the stuff of legend for activists looking for a few good men to take on The Man.
If Joe Miller looks familiar, he should. The 46-year-old Yale-trained lawyer and West Point grad ran for and won Alaska’s GOP primary in 2010, defeating incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski on a wave of Tea Party energy and a Sarah Palin endorsement. But Miller became the first Senate nominee in more than 50 years to lose the subsequent general election to a write-in candidate: Lisa Murkowski.
Miller is back again for a 2014 GOP primary, this time to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Mark Begich. If he makes it to Washington this time, Miller says he would join what he considers the “Liberty Caucus” helmed by Ted Cruz. “I would absolutely be hand-in-hand with both he and Mike Lee, Rand Paul and the work that they’re doing.”
Democrats are quietly crossing their fingers for a Miller victory in the primary, believing that any Tea Partier who managed to lose in Tea Party-fueled 2010 will be a sure thing to lose again. Miller’s ill-fated general election run was marred by disorganization, highlighted by a bizarre episode in which Miller’s private security firm handcuffed a reporter for The Alaska Dispatch, an online news site, when the reporter tried to question Miller at a town hall meeting.
If any Washington pol embodies Goliath for the Tea Partiers’ vision of their Davidian struggle against the powers that be, it’s Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the googly-eyed yet ruthless power broker who is up for reelection in his home state of Kentucky. Enter Matt Bevin, the 46-year-old businessman who runs his family’s bell company and announced this year he would take on McConnell in the state’s GOP primary. Although Bevin has struggled to make a major impact in either fundraising or polling since his announcement, national Tea Partiers and the Senate Conservatives Fund have nonetheless flocked to Bevin’s candidacy as a way to push McConnell to the right and successfully keep the renowned dealmaker on the sidelines of his own leadership.
Even if Bevin fails to pick McConnell off in the primary, he will have succeeded as part of a Tea Party strategy to support a challenge, any challenge, to a Republican incumbent as a way to keep GOPers on notice that the days of Republican lawmakers running unnoticed and unopposed are over.