Tea for two?
Gubernatorial candidates Williams and Galbraith court the tea party vote in Louisville
Last year, Kentucky was the epicenter of the tea party tsunami that swept over American politics. While their major accomplishment was demoting Nancy Pelosi from her position as speaker of the House, perhaps no race was as symbolic of their new power as the Kentucky Senate race, as political newcomer and far-right ideologue Rand Paul came out of nowhere to defeat Mitch McConnell’s hand-picked candidate in the primary, and Democratic candidate Jack Conway in November.
But in 2011, Kentucky appears to be a different environment. Early polls show the Democratic Party in the driver’s seat for this year’s statewide elections, as moderate Gov. Steve Beshear is thumping his competition by more than 20 percent.
To further complicate matters for Republicans, their gubernatorial nominee — state Senate President David Williams — is still having to commit a great deal of energy courting the support of the tea party base at a time when candidates typically move to the political center to broaden their support.
At an Aug. 16 town hall forum held by the Louisville Tea Party — a group and city that thoroughly rejected him during the Republican primary — Williams made his pitch to the activists whose support he desperately needs to have a chance against Beshear this November.
But the presence of fellow gubernatorial candidate Gatewood Galbraith — the independent whom many call the original Kentucky tea partyer — showed how difficult a task that might prove to be for Williams.
Sen. Rand Paul led off the forum with a guest appearance, giving a script-free, 40-minute speech and Q&A session with the adoring, applause-happy audience.
Paul touched on the crowd’s Washington, D.C., villains — 100,000 armed government bureaucrats with SWAT teams ready to invade your property, the Environmental Protection Agency daring to limit the amount of mercury released by power plants, and of course, President Barack Obama — assuring them that the debt ceiling debate was a “made-up crisis” and we were actually never in any threat of default, despite what the liberal media told them.
“You know, when Joe Biden said we were terrorists, I said, well you know what, I think it’s the president holding the economy hostage, and they should be referring to us as freedom fighters,” Paul said to the rapturous adulation of the crowd.
This rock star greeting was followed by a polite reception to speeches by several statewide candidates down the ballot from the race for governor, with Republican commissioner of agriculture candidate Jamie Comer receiving probably the largest reaction with his defense of the right to sell raw milk. It’s just that kind of crowd.
Williams was given polite applause when he was announced, though the room turned silent by the time he made it halfway to the podium.
During the primary, the Louisville Tea Party criticized Williams in their endorsement of his opponent, Phil Moffett, accusing Williams of offering “Band-Aid fixes,” addressing their issues “only when it is politically expedient to do so,” and enabling rampant taxing and spending in Frankfort. Jefferson County Republicans would reject him as well in the primary election, as he only received 31 percent of the vote, which contributed to the underwhelming margin of his statewide victory.
At several points, Williams acknowledged that many in the room did not support him in the primary, including GOP candidates currently on the ticket. He praised Moffett in his speech — a departure from the dismissive rhetoric of the primary race — and told the faithful that he supported their tea party idol, Rand Paul, in his primary race last year (though rather silently).
Williams did his best to assure the crowd that whatever differences they have, it is necessary to band together and defeat their common Democratic enemies: Steve Beshear this November, Obama next year.
“We’re going to join in every piece of litigation that we can join in to make sure that the people in Washington, D.C., learn that it was the states that created the federal government, the federal government did not create the states.”
The speech skewered Beshear’s leadership, and eventually won over the crowd, eliciting a mostly standing ovation from the crowd.
Gatewood Galbraith then took the stage, laying claim to being part of the tea party before it was cool.
“I went to a tea party rally in Frankfort last year, and one of the people said, ‘Thank you for joining us.’ I said, ‘What the hell do you mean you thank me for joining you? Where in the hell have you been the last 30 years?’”
Galbraith played up his longtime anti-tax, pro-gun rights philosophy, repeatedly calling himself a “Goldwater conservative” and accusing Republicans of abandoning their principles.
“Mitch McConnell and Newt Gingrich are not conservatives, they’re aliens,” he said, to big laughs and applause.
Galbraith also spoke to the anti-authority nature of the crowd, decrying the “New World Order,” “bloated police state,” and “petro chemical pharmaceutical military industrial transnational corporate fascist elite SOBs.”
Even when describing his plan to give $5,000 to every high school graduate for future education — a rather “big government” idea — the reaction was surprisingly receptive.
In a joint Q&A session following their speeches, Williams and Galbraith were generous in their praise of each other and united in a tag-team denunciation of Beshear. Williams even hinted that a vote for Galbraith might not be a bad idea: “I’m telling you, if you all really decide that Gatewood toward the end can win, and I can’t, vote for Gatewood. Because we have to have solutions.”
But with Williams straining to consolidate support of the tea party — and polls showing political moderates thoroughly rejecting him — he needs all the votes from the Republican base that he can muster.
So with Galbraith being a natural alternative for many in the tea party, he might want to be careful what he asks for.