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Charles Schumer Tries to Hitch GOP Fortunes to Tea Party

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Charles Schumer (right) believes growing dissatisfaction with the tea party movement will help Democrats and President Barack Obama at the polls in 2012.

Conservative angst in states such as Montana and Nebraska could pose a problem for Democratic incumbents who, GOP operatives argue, will be tied to the president. Other states with Democratic-held seats up for election that Republicans lump into this category include Florida, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio.

Schumer, who led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 2006 and 2008 cycles — and flipped 14 seats — said the Republicans’ Achilles’ heel is their focus on spending and debt at the expense of jobs and economic growth.

He attributed this contention to what he claims is the tea party’s stranglehold on Congressional Republicans. Schumer said even former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney wouldn’t be able to change this dynamic if he wins the GOP presidential nomination.

“Mitt Romney doesn’t have any plans for the economy either. He has the standard tea party line,” Schumer said. “The tea party might not like him on social issues; the tea party may not agree with his view on health care. But on the basic economics, he’s following the tea party line and I don’t think he can shake it.”

Republicans strongly disagreed with Schumer’s assertion and suggested the point is moot, not only because the elections would be characterized by Obama and the GOP nominee, but because Congressional Republicans have a jobs agenda voters will be very aware of between now and December — the same period during which Schumer said their lack of attention to the issue would help boost Democratic fortunes.

“We need to make people understand what it is that we’re for, and we’re going to be offering amendments to various vehicles that come through the Senate that demonstrate that,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), Republican Policy Committee chairman. “We were not for their big debt, big spending, big tax increase proposal because it wasn’t serious. It was clearly a political ploy by the president and his party.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who hails from a state that in 2010 saw the Republicans pick up a Senate seat and two House seats, declined to assess Schumer’s strategy.

Whether blaming the tea party is successful would depend on whether the facts bear that out, he said. Pryor sounded hesitant to pronounce the tea party dead as a formidable force that can boost Republicans, as the movement did in several Congressional and gubernatorial races last cycle.

“My impression is the tea party has not run its course, but it’s not as strong as it was,” Pryor said. “The American public has become used to the tea party, and it’s not necessarily a new and fascinating thing any more. But nonetheless, it’s still a very important part of the Republican Party.”

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