Complete with Gadsden flags, and men in tri-corner hats and ruffled ascots, Americans for Prosperity held what organizers billed as the biggest Election Night Tea Party victory rally in the nation in Parsippany, New Jersey. AFP New Jersey State Director Steve Lonegan hosted the event, serving as rallyer-in-chief for a standing-room-only crowd of over 1,000.
Mingling and watching election returns on FOX News, there was an air of anticipation among the assembled Tea Partiers. They crowded the TV monitors, cheering every Republican gain and jeering every Democratic hold.
Senate victories for Tea Party favorites Rand Paul in Kentucky, Marco Rubio in Florida, and Jim DeMint in South Carolina received boisterous applause while, unsurprisingly, projections of victories for New York’s two incumbent Senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and for Democrat Andrew Cuomo in New York’s race for governor brought loud boos from the crowd.
Most at the rally in this central New Jersey county were keenly following the race in the 6th congressional district, in which surprise Republican nominee Anna Little was taking on 11-term incumbent Frank Pallone. Little, who spent less than $20 thousand on her primary campaign, was heavily backed by AFP and local Tea Party groups.
Ultimately, the Little faithful were disappointed to learn that she had failed to unseat Pallone. Consolation for many at the rally came in Little’s comparatively small eleven-point defeat in a district that had gone for President Obama by nearly double that amount in 2008.
The loss didn’t dampen Tuesday evening entirely. State Senator Mike Doherty (R) fired up the crowd with a red-meat speech in which he proclaimed that the Tea Party and Republicans across the nation were “kicking down the doors to the White House and taking it back.” Speaking to HUMAN EVENTS, Sen. Doherty said that the Tea Party movement had staying power.
“The Tea Party is saying, ‘let’s support the Constitution; let’s not spend money we don’t have,’ and that message is resonating with the American people. They want those things done; they want us to live within our means. The Tea Party is doing a great job, and you see the results. The leading Tea Party candidates are having overwhelming victories,” Doherty said.
Assemblywoman Alison McHose (R), who came to the event to thank Tea Party supporters for their efforts in New Jersey this election season, agreed. McHose said that the Tea Party and Republicans would continue to work together in future elections. “I embrace their organization, and I think that [Republicans] as a party need to recognize their ability to get people motivated. They’re not going away,” she said.
As the evening drew to a close and rallyers headed off into the night, Steve Lonegan sounded a warning for the newly elected Republican leadership in the House. He said that the Tea Party would now turn its attention to making sure that Republicans follow up on their electoral mandate.
“We expect the new leadership in Washington DC, the Republican Party, to turn things back and put America back on track,” Lonegan said. “If the Republican Party fails to do it, they’ll suffer again, just like they did in 2006 and 2008. The difference is [that] this time there will be a real third party, and it will be the Tea Party.”
Lonegan said that there would be close cooperation between the two groups, but doubted that victorious Tea Party candidates would be absorbed entirely by the Republican leadership.
“The Tea Party can work with Republicans if Republicans take a conservative course. However, Republican leadership in Washington is doing everything it can to annex these new Tea Party people. I don’t see that happening. I don’t see the Tea Party rank-and-file membership allowing that to happen,” he said. “So will Tea Party people work with Republicans? Yes. Will Tea Party people revolt if Republicans fail again? Absolutely.”
Warnings aside, this was a night for the Tea Party faithful to celebrate the outsized role the grassroots groups had played in these elections on both local and national levels. But a New York Times analysis of the election results on Wednesday said that of the 39 Tea Party-backed congressional candidates who won their races, 32 of them won seats previously held by Democrats. Those seats will likely figure prominently as Democrats’ target races for 2012. By then the Tea Party may find that it needs Republicans almost as much as Republicans needed the Tea Party’s energy and enthusiasm this election year.