Written by Dominic Dezzutti

The most outspoken influence in the Republican Party since 2010 has clearly been from Tea Party conservatives. Tea Party lawmakers have made news with vocal stances against Obamacare and with efforts to push the party generally to the right. That has led to headline grabbing events, but weaker general election candidates in battleground states.

Colorado is excellent evidence of this phenomenon.

Democrats currently own six of Colorado’s nine Congressional and Senatorial seats, the Governor’s seat and both the State House and Senate. A great deal of credit for that total is owed to Tea Party candidates that dominated Republican primaries, defeating moderates, but failing miserably in general elections. Ken Buck is the current poster child for this in Colorado, but he has a lot of company.

But just as the Tea Party is revving up for the 2014 campaign, two Governor races on the East Coast that were decided on Tuesday may wreak havoc with the Tea Party’s 2014 influence.

In Virginia, Ken Cuccinelli, a very conservative Tea Party darling lost a tight race against Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat with let’s say, a less than spotless record of campaign influence. While the race has been broken down eleven ways to Sunday, a key element to the Republican’s loss was that fact that he was hammered on his stances on social issues and lost votes from women in droves.

By contrast, Chris Christie sailed to re-election in New Jersey, using his victory speech as a virtual kick off to his presidential run in 2016.

Obviously, the two races and players couldn’t be more different; however a theme has emerged on the national stage that is inspiring moderate Republican business leaders to begin to stand up to Tea Party interests within the GOP.

These high profile, general election races showed rank and file Republicans how independently minded candidates can maintain strong popularity in battleground states. New Jersey isn’t exactly a GOP stronghold, yet Christie barely broke a sweat in his re-election bid.

If Christie does begin a push for a presidential run, he can quickly set a trend to buck the system, including the Tea Party litmus test on social issues.

In fact, 2014 may become a battle not between Democrats and Republicans, but a battle between moderate business Republicans and conservative Tea Party Republicans.

The battle will not be a pretty one. Any fight over the soul of a political party is always ugly. And it’s not like the Tea Party will simply go away just because one popular moderate is doing well in New Jersey.

But the bigger problem for the Tea Party is how miserably had picked candidates are doing in general election races that are not in conservative congressional districts. At some point, Republican funders are going to want to win positions that make critical decisions and hold considerable power. For all of their current influence, the Tea Party has yet to show a way to do that.

So while the races were two time zones away, two governor seats in Virginia and New Jersey may make a huge difference in how Republicans run their races here in Colorado. Chris Christie may have just started a fight in Colorado in 2014 that no one expected.

Dominic Dezzutti’s Latest Blog Entries

About The Blogger

– Dominic Dezzutti, producer of the Colorado Decides debate series, a co-production of CBS4 and Colorado Public Television, looks at the local and national political scene in his CBSDenver.com blog. Read new entries here usually every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Dezzutti writes about federal, state and local matters and how our elected leaders are handling the issues important to Colorado. Dezzutti is also the host and producer of the Emmy award winning Colorado Inside Out on Colorado Public Television.


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