While losing elections, tea party says it is winning the message war


By Dave Helling

By Dave Helling

The Kansas City Star

(MCT) — Chuck Henderson of the Flint Hills Tea Party rumbles down the highway into Topeka, ready for another chance to promote his low-tax, small-government, pro-Constitution message.

Tea party candidates have struggled to win elections this year. Any chance he's ready to give up?

"Heck no!" the Manhattan, Kan., engineer shouts over whistling car noise. "We've won some and lost some. But it all falls into the column of lessons learned."

Five years after their broad grass-roots movement rocked town halls and talk shows across the country, tea party members like Henderson view the unfolding 2014 election season with a mixture of pride and frustration.

They're winning the message war, they say — most Republican candidates are now walking, talking and acting like tea party acolytes.

At the same time, though, GOP primary voters have largely stuck with familiar faces, leaving tea party insurgents in the dust.

Indeed, with just a few exceptions, tea party candidates have struggled for a foothold this year. Milton Wolf's Senate candidacy in Kansas remains a long shot with just 11 weeks left until the primary, and he lost a challenge to Sen. Pat Roberts' Kansas residency last week.

Tea party candidates in North Carolina and Texas fell short earlier this year. House Speaker John Boehner crushed tea party opponents this month. This Tuesday, tea party campaigns in Kentucky and Georgia may end in defeat.

Political pros explain the setbacks several ways.

Tea party candidates are often inexperienced and sometimes underfunded. More traditional Republicans — hungry for a win — are emphasizing electability over philosophy, particularly after high-profile losses in 2012.

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