A look through the headliners suggests, “no.” Rubio took Florida and Paul took Kentucky, but these expected wins exhaust tea party gains in most-watched races. Joe Miller in Alaska fell to Lisa Murkowski as a write-in. Sharron Angle, of course, substantially underperformed. Carly Fiorina and Christine O’Donnell went down as hard as expected. John Raese lost by double-digits in West Virginia, after being caught referring to his would-be constituents as “hicky.”
These last three races could have been won by almost any other Republican — a mainline Republican — but voters in these key states resoundingly rejected radicals in favor of professional, competent politicians. To make matters worse, those three wins, plus two more, could have flipped the Senate. Absent tea party “populism,” Republicans could be sitting on a 49-vote bloc, and waiting on the remaining undecided races to see whether they would either receive a 50/50 split, or a narrow majority.
Oh, and in New York’s 23rd, Doug Hoffman’s late drop-out deprived Republicans of an easy gain against vulnerable Democratic congressman Bill Owens. Hah!
It’s hard to say for certain how much tea party “populism” helped Republicans energize their voters, and win close races with mainline candidates. But the bloc’s ability to actually send one of its own to Congress seems, at least this morning, pretty disappointing. This puts tea party partisans in the familiar role, always occupied by conservative culture war partisans, of delivering elections for mainline Republicans, and then being disappointed, when the establishment inevitably turns its back on them. Seeing so many of her favorites go down also seriously blunts Sarah Palin’s star power. All in all, things could be much worse.