Reports of the Tea Party’s death have been greatly exaggerated. That lesson, with apologies to Mark Twain, is one takeaway from a Pennsylvania special election this week.
Ron Miller was the GOP nominee to fill a state senate vacancy in the 28th District. Miller, an incumbent representative in the state house, should have won easily this safe Republican seat. Instead, he barely held onto second place.
To rub salt in that fresh wound, Miller lost to a man whose name wasn’t even on the ballot.
The York Dispatch reports that write-in votes for Tea Party-backed businessman Scott Wagner “totaled 10,595, or 47.7 percent, to Miller’s 5,920, or 26.6 percent. Democrat Linda Small of New Freedom nearly edged out Miller with 5,704 votes, for 25.7 percent.”
Former Fox News election desk hand John Ellis wrote, “You pay attention when this happens, because it never happens.”
That is not an exaggeration. According to the Dispatch again, this special election marked “the first time a write-in candidate has won an election for state Senate in Pennsylvania.” Ever.
Pennsylvania’s GOP attempted to tilt the special election against Wagner by keeping him off the ballot. Then it spent a small fortune on mailers trying to smear him as a “trash man,” a taunt that incensed the man.
On his campaign website, Wagner pointedly refused “to be embarrassed for the success that I have worked so hard for, or for being a ‘trash man.’”
Wagner pointed out that his waste hauling business employs “350 people who receive a paycheck and benefits, pay their bills, buy food and clothes, save for retirement and have some spending money in their wallet.”
He called attacks on his garbage business clear examples of “class warfare designed to divide, all in an attempt to protect political power,” by a party that usually pretends to know better.
Wagner’s platform struck many of the right notes to attract major Tea Party support. “Harrisburg has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” it explains.
Pennsylvania needs “new private sector jobs created, not more government jobs.” Property tax growth must be fought, along with the “[h]igh salaries, lavish pensions, automatic pay raises and excessive per diems” that state legislators lavish on themselves.
Wagner’s platform further promised, “Preserving our constitutional freedoms, including the 2nd Amendment and protecting life, will always be one of my guiding principles.”
This was music to conservative activist ears. Tea Partiers endorsed and campaigned for Wagner. They helped send him to the legislature Tuesday with that historic victory.
Now, with another election scheduled for November, he will have to get cracking.