News & Politics  
comments_image Comments

Will the Tea Party Take the Senate? 8 Races to Watch

The Republicans may not win the Senate, but the Tea Party could take it hostage, thanks to millions of unaccountable dollars, post-Citizens United.

If you listen to election-night prognosticators, the commentary on the races for U.S. Senate will be all about how many seats Republicans are likely to pick up as the night wears on. Right now, the Democrats have 57, plus two independents -- Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Joe Lieberman of Connecticut -- who caucus with them. Republicans hold 41 seats.  

In order to win what the pundits call control of the Senate -- meaning that Mitch McConnell, now the Senate minority leader would gain the title "majority leader" -- Republicans need to pick up 10 seats today. No reputable pollster expects that to happen; most predict a Republican pickup of between seven and nine seats, one of which may well be that of the current Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada.

But even if the Republicans win only seven and McConnell keeps his current title, the Republicans will have effectively won control of the Senate because of the kind of Republicans who will be joining their caucus: enter the Tea Party.

As AlterNet reported in " Tea Party Inc.," as part of our collaborative journalism project with the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, the undisputed leader of the Tea Party contingent in the Senate is Jim DeMint, R-S.C., who said that " complete gridlock" in the Senate, which makes it impossible for President Barack Obama to see any of his agenda pass into law, would be good for business. And, given the arcane rules of the Senate, it doesn't take much to gum up the works; a handful of senators willing to bear the title of gridlocker will do. And there's no title a Tea Partier would rather have. The brand is, after all, built on the notion of government as bad and Obama as worse.

Of the eight seats that Democrats are given more than a 60-percent chance of losing by Nate Silver of Five Thirty-Eight, four will go to Tea Party-branded candidates if Silver's predictions hold up. But the story doesn't end there.

In another four open seats currently held by establishment Republicans, Tea Party candidates running on the Republican line are likely to win. Taken together -- the seats added to the GOP margin by Tea Party candidates, and the Tea Party candidates likely to be seated in open races that don't affect the current ratio of Dems to Repubs -- these candidates, if they win, represent a shift in power away from McConnell and toward Sen. Jim DeMint, who bankrolled many of these Tea Party candidacies through his Senate Conservatives Fund PAC, and endorsed them all.

Much of DeMint's largess went to what are known as "independent expenditures" for advertising and communications made on a candidate's behalf, ostensibly without their knowledge. Many of the negative ads you see on television arguing against a particular candidate are made using independent expenditures. As of October 13 (the most recent filing available), DeMint's PAC spent more than $6 million on behalf of 11 candidates, including almost $2 million in independent expenditures.

In light of the tens of millions being spent by Karl Rove's American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, make no mistake: these candidates are getting plenty of Rove's money, too -- money they'd never have been in a position to receive without DeMint's help in securing their spots on the GOP ballot. American Crossroads dumped $6 million into a single race for one of DeMint's favored candidates, Marco Rubio of Florida.

Furthermore, DeMint was the early backer of many of these candidates. So even though his PAC may not be their biggest donor, several, like Rubio and Rand Paul in Kentucky, basically owe their viability to DeMint's backing, often with an assist from FreedomWorks, the Tea Party-branded astroturf group chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas. These are candidates who won their primaries as challengers who vanquished candidates endorsed by McConnell or backed by the Republican establishment.