NY Times Manages to Spin Resurgent Conservative Movement as Problem for GOP in 2010

It took a few days, but the New York Times has apparently hit upon a way to deal with Scott Brown's shock victory in the Mass. special election: Claim the win may actually spell trouble for the Republicans come the 2010 elections. That spin came through in three separate stories on the election, two of which made the front page.

Monday's A1 story from Adam Nagourney and Carl Hulse, "Re-energized G.O.P. Widens Midterm Effort," started off with the obvious: The GOP is feeling optimistic, but soon injected the new liberal meme that the Tea Partiers providing anti-Democratic energy may turn on the Republicans.

Republicans are luring new candidates into House and Senate races, and the number of seats up for grabs in November appears to be growing, setting up a midterm election likely to be harder fought than anyone anticipated before the party's big victory in Massachusetts last week.

Republicans still face many obstacles, not least a number of potentially divisive primaries in coming months that will highlight the deep ideological rifts within the party. But in the days since Republicans claimed the Senate seat that Edward M. Kennedy had held for decades, upending assumptions in both parties about the political landscape for 2010, they have seen not just a jolt of energy and optimism but also more concrete opportunities to take on Democrats.


Stuart Rothenberg, a political analyst who follows Congressional races, said a report he will release Monday will count 58 Democratic House seats in play, up from 47 in December. The number of Republican seats in play has held at 14 in that period, he said. And Democrats expect more of their incumbents to retire, which could put additional seats at risk.

Once Nagourney and Hulse got the Republican optimism out of the way, they found all sorts of potential problems for the GOP less than a week after the titanic upset:

But the outlook for November remains hard to discern for several reasons. The Supreme Court decision last week overturning limits on corporate money in campaigns could alter races in ways difficult to predict, though the conventional wisdom is that Republicans will benefit most.

President Obama and the Democrats are reorganizing to blunt any advantage Republicans might have gained from the burst of angry populism that seems to be coursing through both parties.

The White House has not given up on passing a health care bill, and there is still time for the economy to improve in a way that could benefit the president and his party. And while Republicans are benefiting now from a wave of optimism, they also face a thicket of primary fights, starting in Illinois on Feb. 2, which could weaken their nominees.

Democrats have not been spared primary battling. Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who switched to the Democratic Party from the Republican last year, faces a primary challenge on the left from Representative Joe Sestak. The party also faces competitive Senate primaries in Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina and Ohio, reflecting, among other issues, strains between liberals and centrists.

But the deeper intramural divisions are within the Republican Party, a sign of the intensity and unpredictability of the grass-roots conservative movement.

Across the country, Republican candidates are running as outsiders with the backing of conservative Tea Party groups, challenging Republicans identified with the party establishment. Several analysts said the victory in the Massachusetts Senate race of Scott Brown, a Republican who ran with Tea Party support, could encourage more challenges and drive incumbents further right

Contributing to the struggle to make the Tea Party movement look bad for the G.O.P. was Saturday's front-page story by Kate Zernike, "Republicans Strain to Ride Tea Party Tiger."

As they look to make gains in statehouses and Congress this year, Republicans are trying to harness the Tea Party energy that helped make an unknown named Scott Brown the senator-elect from Massachusetts.

But it may not be easy, as one Republican in Colorado learned the hard way.

When Scott McInnis appeared on Fox News last month underneath a title calling him the "Tea-Party-backed candidate" for governor, he triggered a tempest. Tea Party leaders fired off angry e-mail messages and public statements insisting that he was not their choice.

"Let it be known that we will not be used by any party or candidate!" Lu Ann Busse, the head of a coalition of Tea Party brethren known as 9/12 groups, declared at a "Defend the Republic" rally where she was invited to set the record straight after Mr. McInnis's appearance.

Mr. McInnis said it was Fox that gave him the description without consulting him. But he was quick to try to make amends, issuing a statement on his Web site, and in the weeks since he and the head of the state Republican Party have toured Colorado meeting with Tea Party groups.

Across the country, many Tea Party activists believe that they have to work within the Republican Party if they want to elect fiscally conservative candidates. But they want the party to work for them - not, they argue, the other way around.

For Republican officials, managing the tensions between the two parties - one official, one potent - can be something like a full-time job.

It's actually an informative story about the tensions, but it's of a piece with the paper's pattern of trying to link the Tea Party movement, which the paper has spent almost a year dismissing as angry and fringe, as suddenly sufficiently influential to take down the Republican establishment.

Reporter Katharine Seelye found the usual conservative "anger" in her Sunday story "In New Hampshire, An Angry Tide Swells."

The anger that boiled over in Massachusetts last week is bubbling up here. It is rooted in a combination of factors, including fear over the proposed health care legislation, anxiety about the flailing economy and distrust of an overreaching government.

Seelye at least let disgruntled citizens voice their fears that Washington would change health care for the worse, before suggesting Obama had already addressed their concerns and that they didn't know what they were talking about:

Few seemed aware that the proposed bills would provide tax breaks for small-business owners or exempt them from penalties if they did not provide insurance to their employees. Or they assumed that they would still come out losers.

And many admitted to being thoroughly confused.

"I just don't know what the heck it is," said Marie Mack, 69, the owner of the Fish Bowl. Ms. Mack said she was not necessarily against a health care bill, but that Democrats had done a bad job of selling the idea.

"They have to simplify it for the simple folk," she said.

- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site