The Tea Party presents itself as a grassroots, jus’ folks, not-gonna-take-it-any-more uprising, consisting of regular people who were so fed up after several weeks of Barack Obama’s presidency that they just couldn’t take it anymore and they just had to do something.
But that’s basically the opposite of what we’re seeing here in the fifth congressional district, where at least two of the Republican candidates are just rich guys self-financing their campaigns. Lawrence Verga was the first to do it. Having just moved to the district, he’s totally certain that he should be in charge. We can see that not many other people agree with him, since he’s had to give his campaign $226,579 just to get it off the ground. (A bunch of that went to Joe the Unlicensed Plumber to buy an endorsement.) The rest of his money—a grand total of $11,025—came from thirteen people, eight of whom live in the district, $6,250 in all.
Now Jim McKelvey has given his campaign a half million dollars, too. Haven’t heard of McKelvey? Well, that’s basically his problem in a nutshell. But, don’t worry, he’s got other supporters. Well, another supporter, singular. A Roanoke packaging salesman who gave him a grand.
For comparison, Feda Kidd Morton—for my money, far and away the most unhinged candidate in this race, and definitely the most vocal—has raised $14,301 from a grand total of seventeen people. I’ve worked on congressional campaigns in the pre-primary phase, and watched closely many more. Seventeen people contributing is not good. Seventeen people pledging $14,301 is cause to consider entering the race. Several months into the race, those kind of numbers are cause to pack up and go home.
But what’s even worse is McKelvey and Verga who, in dollar values or number of contributions, are in terrible shape when compared to the wretchedly unsupported Morton. (These three are the only candidates who have filed their reports yet. They’re due Sunday. No doubt some of those will be equally revealing.) As I’ve written, there’s nothing wrong with candidates contributing to their own campaigns. But when they use their money as a substitute for actual support, or to provide the appearance of support where there is none, that’s a sign of a fatally flawed campaign. In 2001 Mark Warner pumped millions into his own race, but not until October, and not as a means of feigning support, but to supplement his own already-healthy coffers.
With these kinds of numbers from candidates desperately jostling to be the Tea Party darling, it’s awfully tough to why in the world they’d want to tie themselves to such a wretchedly ineffective group. Given the well-lined pockets of McKelvey and Verga, the reality of Tea Party dynamics is becoming clear: they’re exactly like any other party. They talk a good game about being salt-of-the-earth types, but it’s the rich folks who run for office, trying to blend in with their supporters. The trouble is that their supporters don’t have any money. They’re just the proletariat, so star-struck by ostensible politicians listening to them—so utterly naïve about the political process—that they’ll hang teabags from their ears to demand that the government cut taxes on the wealthiest Americans who, not coincidentally, are the very politicians standing in front of them.
We’ve got a word for that: suckers.