POLITICS

Tea Party Crushing Chamber Of Commerce In GOP Primaries

Aug 11, 2010 | Updated May 25, 2011

The Chamber of Commerce plans to spend at least $75 million on elections in 2010, but returns on its early investments this season have been disappointing. Jane Norton, who lost to a Tea Party backed candidate (Ken Buck) in Colorado Tuesday night, is just one in a string of Chamber-backed candidates to go down in defeat.

The Chamber's biggest win of 2010 remains one of its only GOP success stories, when Scott Brown knocked off Martha Coakley to break the Democrats' filibuster-proof majority. Since then, however, Chamber candidates have lost in Maine, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah and Kentucky.

The losing streak may say less about the Chamber's political acumen than it does about the anger voters have at corporate influence on the political process. A new poll funded by MoveOn.org and performed by SurveyUSA found that opposition to unchecked corporate involvement in the election process cuts across party lines. Seventy-six percent of Republicans in the survey said that it is very important (44%) or somewhat important (28%) for a candidate to commit to reducing the influence corporations have over elections and 64 percent said they'd be more likely to vote for a candidate who backed a constitutional amendment overturning Citizens United, the 5-4 Supreme Court decision that upended a century of campaign law to allow unlimited corporate involvement.

Most of the Chamber's losses have come at the hands of the Tea Party, an amorphous organization whose anger has been channeled by lobbyists at Democrats in Washington but whose members are also furious about corporate bailouts.

In June, the Chamber lost both of its GOP House contests in Tennessee, watching Jim Tracy and Robin Smith go down. Its South Carolina gubernatorial candidate, Gresham Barrett, was crushed by the Sarah Palin-backed Nikki Haley. The Chamber-backed Bob Inglis, a GOP incumbent, lost a South Carolina primary.

The Chamber had two chances to win in Utah. Its first candidate, Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), didn't make the ballot, rejected by party activists. Its second choice, Tim Bridgewater, lost to the Tea Party-backed Mike Lee.

The conservative business group cut an ad for Steve Abbott, a former Susan Collins staffer running for governor in Maine. He finished fourth in the primary.

In the Pennsylvania race to replace Jack Murtha, the Chamber spent $100,000 backing Republican Tim Burns. Just as Norton had done, Burns tried to make Nancy Pelosi a major issue in the campaign.

Tray Grayson, the Chamber candidate in Kentucky, who had Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's support as well, lost in a landslide to Tea Party-backed Rand Paul.

The Chamber hasn't been entirely shut out. It backed Joe Wilson in South Carolina, whose claim to fame rests on shouting "You lie!" at President Obama in the House chamber. He won with 88 percent of the vote. J.P. Fielder, a Chamber spokesman, said that other Republican Chamber candidates (plus Blanche Lincoln in Arkansas) have won as well, among them Lynn Jenkins, who won a GOP House primary in Kansas, but that the organization had so far endorsed few candidates, giving it fewer opportunities.