Tea Party darling Rand Paul steamrolled his establishment-backed opponent in Kentucky’s GOP Senate primary last week—then steamrolled himself, making remarks about the federal government’s role in regulating private business sufficiently controversial that suddenly the entire Republican Party found itself having to pledge allegiance to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Paul implosion may be just a taste of things to come, in an election year sure to see more untested insurgents finding favor with an electorate ready to throw the bums—and the bums they support—out.
Who, then, are the next Rand Pauls? The Daily Beast surveys the landscape for other key Senate races in which outsiders are running well against more established Republican candidates—and have the policy positions to create a stir should they pull off a victory.
Linda McMahon Connecticut Senate
She’s not the designated Tea Party candidate in Connecticut; that honor has been bestowed upon businessman Peter Schiff. But World Wrestling executive Linda McMahon offers the kind of unpredictable candidacy that could give Republican Party bosses fits this fall. For now, it’s the Democrat in the race, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who is on the defensive over allegations that he spoke falsely about his Vietnam-era military record. In the early stages of the Blumenthal affair, which seemed to have only upside for McMahon, the campaign stumbled by claiming its oppo research team was responsible for providing the damaging dirt on Blumenthal to The New York Times. With former Rep. Rob Simmons withdrawing Tuesday from the Republican field, the race’s dynamic could prove to be a remake of the Kentucky campaign, where a career pol is swept aside by an energetic—and untested—political novice.
Clint Didier Washington Senate
Election watchers say former Washington gubernatorial candidate Dino Rossi’s decision this week to challenge Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) for her seat is a recruiting coup. But it’s unclear whether Rossi will be able to make it out of the primary. Former NFL player Clint Didier is actively touting his support from the Tea Party and the Campaign for Liberty crowd and scored a major endorsement last week from Sarah Palin, who called him “a patriot running for U.S. Senate to serve his state & our country for all the right reasons!" on her Twitter account. Didier’s free-market bona fides may be put to the test by his critics, however; he’s received $273,000 in agricultural subsidies from big government. Attacks on farm subsidies have been effective against Tennessee House candidate Stephen Fincher.
Ken Buck Colorado Senate
The Rand Paul effect is being felt in Colorado where insurgent candidate Ken Buck, Weld County district attorney, is running a strong campaign against establishment favorite Jane Norton, the Republican lieutenant governor. Like Paul, Buck has been endorsed by Sen. Jim DeMint, the Tea Party’s man in Washington. He echoes Paul’s shrink-the-government, anti-tax stance, which energized Kentucky’s Republican voters. This weekend Sarah Palin gave a big boost to Buck’s chances by deciding to stay out of the race. While giving a speech in Denver, where many expected Palin to officially endorse Norton, Palin never acknowledged the lieutenant governor. In recent weeks, Palin has made a point of her stumping for Republican women whom she calls “mama grizzlies.” Norton, so far it seems, hasn’t earned a spot in Palin’s pack. Although, keeping with the animal theme, Norton has been name-checked by Palin as part of the herd of this year’s “pink elephants.” The news keeps getting better for Buck. He took 76 percent of the vote of party delegates who got together on Saturday. Norton skipped out on the assembly. On Monday, a third Republican candidate dropped out of the race and endorsed Buck. Norton’s lead has been shrinking in recent weeks.
Chuck DeVore California Senate
Chuck DeVore, one of the most prominent candidates this year associated with the Tea Party movement, is challenging Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA). He’s generating a bit of controversy lately; as a retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserves, he’s had to head off recent questions as to his military record after the Los Angeles Times suggested he “overstated” his accomplishments and the amount of danger he experienced in combat. But Republicans worried that another Tea Party titan might implode can take heart; so far, anyway, DeVore has had trouble generating the kind of momentum he’ll need to overcome his two primary opponents: computer executive Carly Fiorina, whose private fortune is helping her blanket the airwaves with ads, and moderate former Rep. Tom Campbell, who was the subject of the infamous “Demon Sheep” attack ad by Fiorina earlier this year. DeVore suffered a major blow when, in a surprise move, Sarah Palin endorsed Fiorina for the seat—a move that drew some criticism from the former governor’s fans on her Facebook page.
Tim D’Annunzio North Carolina 8th District
Republican Party officials in North Carolina are so worried about the Rand Paul effect that they’re actively trying to sabotage their own Tea Party upstart. GOP leaders have gone to the press with documents concerning businessman Tim D’Annunzio’s messy divorce, hoping to knock him out of the race to challenge Democratic incumbent Larry Kissell in the state’s 8th Congressional District. According to the documents, D’Annunzio said he was the Messiah. He thought God would drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid on Greenland, and form a “New Jerusalem.” He sought treatment for heroin addiction. A judge noted that D’Annunzio thought the government was the “Anti-Christ.” "Mr. D'Annunzio has disqualified himself by his background, his record and his behavior," North Carolina’s Republican Party chair said this week. All of this has led to some town hall-style hysterics in Concord, North Carolina, where a shouting match and catcalls of “coward” greeted one party official at a D’Annunzio press conference Monday. Airing D’Annunzio’s dirty laundry may not be enough to hold back his candidacy. The well-funded Tea Party favorite bested Republican Harold Johnson in a May primary but didn’t pull in 50 percent of the vote. They will face each other in a runoff on June 22.
Sharon Angle Nevada Senate
Former Assemblywoman Sharon Angle, the Tea Party’s top candidate in the GOP primary to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), is benefiting from an implosion by frontrunner Sue Lowden, who has been sinking in the polls ever since she suggested that poor Nevadans could “barter” with their doctors, perhaps by giving them a chicken in exchange for services. Lowden recently told Politico that she thought Reid was trying to boost the less-experienced Angle in the hopes that she would be an easier opponent to defeat. There’s no doubt she’s not quite as seasoned—Politico notes numerous spelling and grammar errors on her campaign site—but Angle’s ultra-conservative positions, which include abolishing the Department of Education and ending virtually all campaign finance restrictions, could win her the support she needs with Tea Party activists. Reid’s advisers are openly embracing comparisons to Kentucky’s Republican Senate nominee: “She’s a female Rand Paul,” one Reid adviser told Politico. “We’re going to show everyone what she stands for, and then we’ll see what happens.”
Raul Labrador Idaho 1st District
Idaho has been coping with a kind of reverse Rand Paul dynamic: an outsider, saving the Republican Party from a gaffe-prone establishment candidate. The GOP dodged a bullet when Vaughn Ward, an Iraq war vet who had been endorsed by Palin and was highly touted as a recruit by the national party, went down to defeat in Tuesday's primary, bested by Raoul Labrador. Ward had been committing blunders that make Paul's Civil Rights Act comments look tame in comparison. The latest uh-oh came when Ward was caught recycling lines from then Sen. Barack Obama’s 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Ward had allso been rebuked for making it appear that Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo endorsed his campaign when, in fact, he had not. And on at least two occasions, Ward suggested that Puerto Rico, where primary opponent Labrador was born, is a foreign nation. Idaho's primary voters appear to have headed off trouble by rejecting Ward. But fans of the Tea Party's impact needn't worry; a national group, the Tea Party Express, has endorsed the Democratic incumbent, Rep. Walt Minnick.
This story has been updated with the results of Idaho's 1st District primary Tuesday night.
Benjamin Sarlin is Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.