Jack Rogers viewed the stunning defeat of U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in Virginia with equal parts jubilation and frustration on Wednesday.
“I believe a tsunami is coming,” said Rogers, who organizes Minnesota Tea Party groups across the state.
Rogers said the frustration with establishment Republicans that swept a top GOP leader out is mounting — and not just in Virginia.
“The people are paying attention and they are frustrated with not working, they’re frustrated with overregulation, they’re frustrated with health care,” Rogers said. “People are not buying into either political party or the unions or the pressures from any groups. … I’m excited to see how D.C. reacts to this, instead of pulling back in fear, standing up and saying, ‘Hey, we got the message.’ ”
In Minnesota and across the country, Tea Party faithful have grown accustomed to living in a split screen. They have days of great joy — Cantor’s primary defeat and the forcing of veteran Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran into a runoff. And days of disappointment — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham’s easy victory on Tuesday, following that of Tea Party antagonist Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell several weeks ago.
“There are real highs, and there’s also the realization that politics is not a sprint,” said Mitch Berg, a blogger and radio host who has been a featured speaker at Tea Party events. “The establishment vs. the Tea Party? I think we will be duking it out for a generation.”
The establishment side that Cantor represented has money and organizations that often serve as the lifeblood of politics. Like David Brat, who vanquished Cantor, the Tea Party opposition often lacks those key ingredients.
But the victory by Brat, an economics professor who won with little name recognition and less money, and others give the movement a jolt.
Five years ago, the Tea Party was barely a whisper in the state. Now Minnesota actually has two factions represented: Tea Party Patriots and the Minnesota Tea Alliance.
Randy Liebo, who coordinates the Tea Party Patriots across Minnesota, has watched the network grow to 30 active affiliates. On Wednesday, he heard from another group in southern Minnesota eager to sign up.
“It’s definitely growing,” said Liebo, an Eden Prairie IT project coordinator who said his Tea Party work is feeling like a second full-time job.
At the Minnesota Tea Alliance, Rogers shares leadership duties with Jake Duesenberg at monthly meetings that regularly attract hundreds of Minnesotans.
Early last month, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McFadden visited two Tea Party groups in his quest to win GOP endorsement.
“I’m not a politician, and I’m damn proud of that,” he said to the few hundred people filling out the Mermaid Event Center’s ballroom in Mounds View. The crowd did not cheer when he was asked whether he considers himself a Tea Party candidate.
McFadden, a businessman, went on to win the Republican Party activists’ support at their May convention. But not everyone who identifies with the Tea Party came along.
“There are a lot of people who will not be excited about a candidate like that,” Duesenberg said.
A funding void
Cantor’s loss triggered a different reaction among Republican lawmakers and candidates. The Virginia House member is a top GOP fundraiser who has brought in more than $30 million for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
In Minnesota, Cantor has been a reliable, deep-pocketed ally for Republicans in need. His leadership political action committee, Every Republican Is Crucial, has donated $169,500 to Minnesota Republican candidates over the past decade, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Since 2004, Cantor has given $40,000 to Rep. Erik Paulsen, $35,000 to Rep. Michele Bachmann and $34,500 to Rep. John Kline. Dating back a decade, Cantor donations helped former Congressmen Jim Ramstad, Gil Gutknecht and Mark Kennedy.
In 2012, he donated $10,000 to former Eighth District U.S. Rep. Chip Cravaack who lost his re-election bid to current U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan. This cycle, he’s given $10,000 to Nolan’s challenger, Stewart Mills III. Cantor ponied up $5,000 to state Sen. Torrey Westrom’s campaign in the Seventh Congressional District, marking the first time he’s put money behind a candidate vying to unseat Rep. Collin Peterson.
But Cantor’s contributions did not stop Bachmann from celebrating his defeat.
“Americans are tired of Washington elites ignoring the concerns of real people,” Bachmann said Wednesday. “The American people are right to be fed up, and we need to start listening to them and delivering results that help provide opportunities to thrive, prosper and have a better future.” Bachmann launched the U.S. House Tea Party Caucus four years ago.
Tea Party candidates have inched their way forward in Minnesota and have claimed some victories of their own.
In 2010, Cindy Pugh, a Tea Party activist, ousted the more moderate GOP Rep. Steve Smith from the Mound seat he had held for decades. She netted 70 percent of the vote to his meager 30 percent. In a primary that same year, Republican Dave Osmek bested Republican Rep. Connie Doepke for a Senate seat representing Mound by a narrow margin.
Osmek said his victory, borne of more than a decade of service on the Mound City Council, was not due to Tea Party support alone. “I was already in the mold of what the Tea Party was about to become,” Osmek said.
But, he added, Tea Party victories like Brat’s in Virginia should serve as a reminder to all officials.
“If you are not following what your constituents believe in, there is a mechanism by which they can enforce change,” he said. “And that’s called an election.”
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @RachelSB
Corey Mitchell Twitter: @C_C_Mitchell