The future of Michigan politics has become wildly uncertain as mid-term elections approach. This time around, social issues such as abortion and gay rights have taken a back seat to America’s deficit problem with voters becoming more concerned with the fiscal positions of candidates.
The emergence of the “Tea Party,” which has been endorsing candidates, donating to campaigns, holding rallies and speaking out against government policies, has been partly responsible for this shift.
Joshua Cline, an Oakland University sophomore and Chairman of the College Republicans at OU, said the Tea Party is concerned with two things: government intrusiveness and federal financial problems.
“They are ticked off at the federal deficit,” Cline said. “The Tea Party in Michigan…is pissed off at the fiscal responsibility of the government.”
The Michigan Tea Party initially filed 23 affidavits to formally put it on the November ballot, but allegations of breaking Federal Election Commission laws led to an investigation that ultimately barred all Tea Party candidates from the upcoming general election.
Even though the future looks grim for the local Tea Party, Gail Haines, state representative from District 43, said the Tea Party still has a presence in Michigan.
“I am very involved with my local tea party and they support me,” Haines said. “I go to as many of their events as I can.”
She said the Tea Party wants transparency, a stop to federal overspending, and common sense in government policy.
“The Tea Party is a lot stronger than most people think,” Cline said.
Michigan is not the only state with a Tea Party presence. Other states around the country have embraced the Tea Party movement, voting favorably for candidates that it backs.
Dave Dulio, OU associate professor and chair of the political science department, said the Tea Party is influencing major elections with great success.
“They (Tea Party) burst onto the national scene probably during the health care debate (in 2009),” Dulio said.
In one U.S. Senate Republican primary earlier this year, Joe Miller, a relatively unknown attorney with no experience in office, beat the Alaskan incumbent Lisa Murkowski. The Tea Party Express Political Action Committee spent $600,000 dollars on advertisements endorsing Miller.
“They are getting people excited, raising money and winning elections,” Dulio said. “The Tea Party has changed the dynamic of a general election contest dramatically.”
Another Tea Party victory in a Delaware primary has received a lot of attention in the media. Endorsed by the Tea Party Express, Christine O’Donnell narrowly beat Mike Castle, former Delaware Governor and former U.S. representative, by six points. O’Donnell is the eighth Tea Party-backed candidate to best a Republican establishment candidate in the primaries.
Cline said the Republicans need to be careful because if they do not align with Tea Party principles, there will be a third party.
Micheal Gazdik, junior majoring in political science and secretary of the College Democrats at OU, said the Tea Party is not helping their cause by knocking out Republicans that could have had a legitimate shot of winning elections.
“With all the anger toward Congressional incumbents…one would think the (Tea Party) would back a candidate that can garner moderate and independent support,” he said. “The (Tea Party) candidates are too conservative to make a real move towards their respective positions in many states.”
Dulio said the Tea Party is not one entity, but rather many different factions that are very different from each other. Still, Haines said the party is not to be ruled out.
“If they get more organized, I think other people running for office will have to lend them an ear,” she said.