Thursday, December 12, 2013
By STEVE LeBLANC The Associated Press
BOSTON - Tea party activists are again supporting Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown this election, even though many aren't thrilled with some of his votes over the past two years.
Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown
They say any disappointment with Brown is overshadowed by two bigger factors -- the threat posed by Brown's Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren and the desire to help Republicans seize control of the Senate.
"The bottom line is that he's a Republican in the Senate," said Ted Tripp of the Merrimack Valley Tea Party. "Republicans have to take control of the Senate so we can stop the liberal agenda and roll back the liberal policies that have been put in place over the past few years."
When Brown staged his surprise win in the 2010 special election for the seat left vacant by the death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, some of his most ardent backers were tea party activists.
Two years later, not all tea party supporters are still enamored of Brown, but they say they're backing him as he seeks his first full six-year term.
It's hard to remember just how big an upset Brown's election was -- not just for Brown, but for the tea party movement itself.
As it became clear that Democratic candidate Martha Coakley wasn't cruising to an easy win, tea party activists jumped at what initially seemed like the longest of political longshots -- electing a little-known Republican to Kennedy's longtime Senate seat in liberal Massachusetts.
The Tea Party Express, one of the movement's main political action committees, began pouring money into Brown's campaign, attracting the attention of other activists -- some of whom trekked to Massachusetts from other states to lend support.
The Tea Party Express would end up spending nearly $348,000 in independent expenditures to help Brown, according to the Federal Election Commission.
"It was an important race for the tea party movement because it turned the movement from a protest movement to a political movement," said Sal Russo, a veteran GOP political strategist and founder of the California-based Tea Party Express.
"By winning in Massachusetts, it proved that you could win anywhere," he added.
Brown's win helped strengthen the movement, which went on to help elect dozens of lawmakers to Congress in the midterm elections, handing control of the U.S. House to Republicans.
But if activists thought they were getting a conservative firebrand in Brown, they were disappointed.
Not only did he side with Democrats in supporting a jobs bill pushed by President Obama, he went on to break with conservatives on other key issues.
Brown was one of just three Republicans who voted for the Dodd-Frank law that sought to toughen financial-industry regulations. He also voted for the START treaty to further limit U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.
But on one make-or-break issue for tea party activists, Brown remained firm -- his opposition to the Affordable Care Act. Brown vowed to be the 41st vote against the measure, which passed despite his opposition.
Christine Morabito, president of the Greater Boston Tea Party, said she supported Brown, but never realistically expected him to be an arch conservative.
"Scott Brown is not as ideologically conservative as the tea party. I'm not sure he ever was," she said. "Maybe a lot of us wanted him to be more conservative than he was."
But she and others say there's one reason above all that they plan to support Brown -- defeating Warren, a Harvard Law School professor.