Sal Russo thinks the reports of the tea party’s demise have always been premature. “I have been saying all along that I think a lot of the press’ stories about the tea party have been wrong,” Russo, the Tea Party Express co-founder, told Business Insider. “Because while the protest side of it has diminished, what we’ve seen an increase of is tea party people actively engaging in political campaigns.”
Need proof of the tea party’s continued influence on the Republican Party? Look at Indiana, where the tea party underdog Richard Mourdock is about to take down six-term Sen. Dick Lugar in the Republican primary today. The latest bipartisan poll has him up 10 points on Lugar in the race.
This is an example of grassroots organising and taking advantage of Lugar’s increasing unpopularity in Indiana. Mourdock has been the Indiana State Treasurer for the past five years. Lugar, of course, has been one of the state’s U.S. Senators for the past 36 years.
Then how did that happen?
Lugar’s first mistake, it seems, was not taking his opponent seriously, as The Daily Beast reports. Which is sort of understandable. He hadn’t faced a single serious primary challenge — or even a single serious Democratic challenger — in each of his six runs. He has more than 40 years of experience in Indiana politics — he was the mayor of Indianapolis before becoming one of the state’s U.S. Senators. Before becoming the State Treasurer, Mourdock lost five previous elections.
It’s a cinch, right?
The Fix details how Lugar didn’t take the early heed of advice from strategists to kill Mourdock’s campaign when it was in its earliest stages. In Arizona in 2010, for example, John McCain hit tea party challenger J.D. Hayworth with a barrage of ads on his own radio show.
Lugar didn’t follow McCain’s example (even though he had a close to $4 million more to spend), and Mourdock and his tea party supporters have taken advantage.
Russo tells an anecdote of the Tea Party Express’ first national bus tour in the spring of 2009, when he asked how many people had been active in a political campaign. Back then, about 85 to 90 per cent of the participants had never been active in any political campaign.
Today, that has flipped completely — on the Tea Party Express’ current tour, 90 per cent are active participants, Russo said.
“Sometimes everyone says, ‘Well, gee, there are not as many protestors as we used to have,'” Russo said. “Well, that’s correct. People now don’t see a need to protest, because they’ve seen that conservative political action will make a difference.”
He added: “The Mourdock-Lugar race is a good example of where the tea party has gotten involved and engaged in a serious way. And I think it’s going to result in a good election.”
And so the six-term Senator has been reduced to pleading for his seat, according to the Indianapolis Star. Probably to no avail:
“Every person in Indiana who wants me to continue, every person wherever they might be at this point, I encourage them to come out,” he said. “Come out immediately, as fast as you can.”
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.