Taking the model on the road

TAKING THE MODEL ON THE ROAD…. In New York’s 23rd, it was the Republican Party vs. the Republican Party’s base. The party wanted a moderate candidate with a history of serving the community; the base wanted a right-wing newbie who didn’t actually live in the district. The base won; the GOP candidate was forced out of the race; and the far-right Beck acolyte is poised to do very well today.

So, any chance the Tea Party crowd will feel satiated, content in knowing they proved their point? Fat chance.

In what could be a nightmare scenario for Republican Party officials, conservative activists are gearing up to challenge leading GOP candidates in more than a dozen key House and Senate races in 2010.

Conservatives and tea party activists had already set their sights on some of the GOP’s top Senate recruits — a list that includes Gov. Charlie Crist in Florida, former Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut and Rep. Mark Kirk in Illinois, among others.

But their success in Tuesday’s upstate New York special election, where grass-roots efforts pushed GOP nominee Dede Scozzafava to drop out of the race and helped Conservative Party nominee Doug Hoffman surge into the lead on the eve of Election Day, has generated more money and enthusiasm than organizers ever imagined.

Activists predict a wave that could roll from California to Kentucky to New Hampshire and that could leave even some GOP incumbents — Utah Sen. Bob Bennett is one — facing unexpectedly fierce challenges from their right flank.

“I would say it’s the tip of the spear,” said Dick Armey, the former GOP House majority leader who now serves as chairman of FreedomWorks, an organization that has been closely aligned with the tea party movement. “We are the biggest source of energy in American politics today.”

“What you’re going to see,” said Armey, “is moderates and conservatives across the country in primaries.”

And there’s not much party leaders can do about it.

After spectacular failures in 2006 and 2008, Republican officials resisted calls to move the party towards the middle, but they nevertheless recruited candidates intended to have fairly broad appeal. Now they’re finding an enraged, uncompromising, right-wing base that will settle for nothing short of everything. If that means losing elections and driving moderates from the ranks, so be it.

For more moderate candidates, that means moving sharply to the right. For targeted GOP incumbents, it means less compromising, less constructive lawmaking, and more fealty to right-wing demands.

It’s not enough to run a scorched-earth campaign against the governing majority — Republican officials are now expected to salt the earth, too.