The Tea Party movement continues to shake things up in the Republican Party, as contested primaries provide opportunities for grassroots activists to show their strength against the GOP establishment.
A crucial test will come in Tuesday's Illinois primary, where political newcomer Adam Andrzejewski has gotten a surge of support, with a Tea Party event yesterday in Chicago where the temperature was 7 degrees:
Despite the frigid weather, the Tea Partiers and other self-described "true" conservatives made their way to Federal Plaza Friday afternoon. There, they welcomed their newest hero, Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski.
"New ideas are required by new people. Real reform requires a new generation of leadership," said Andrzejewski.
Andrzejewski, a Hinsdale businessman who made millions selling telephone books, vows not to raise taxes and to cut, cut, cut spending, as he says. His rhetoric has resonated with the Republican right.
"We need more people to step up to the plate for hard-working Americans who have the morals and can go in and get our country back," said Kathy Hurst, Tea Party member.
Lech Walesa's appearance yesterday with Andrzejewski helped generate extensive media coverage. One Illinois source reports that the campaign is sending out a mailer featuring the former Polish president's endorsement that will go to a list of more than 200,000 Polish-American voters in the state.
Like many other GOP candidates in this year of populist unrest, Andrzejewski's campaign has stressed his regular-guy status - an outsider and businessman untainted by the legendary corruption in Illinois - and John Fund's profile of Scott Brown notes how important that theme was in the Massachusetts Senate campaign:
On the day we meet, the Boston Globe has a lengthy article on the meaning of the brown leather "barn coat" he wore on the campaign trail. And then there is the pickup truck he drove around the state, which has become a symbol of his authenticity and "Everyman" origins as a kid who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and was scared straight by a judge after he was caught shoplifting as a 12-year-old. . . .
"People out there are disgusted," he says, shaking his head. "Especially with any one party dominating government and talking down to them. They want straight talk, no BS. A focus on jobs and what really creates them. They want problem solvers in office, and it helped me that I was able to show I could work with Democrats in the legislature."
One of the volunteers on Brown's campaign is now running for Congress in Alabama, and emulating the "straight talk, no BS" theme. Rick Barber, a small businessman and ex-Marine, is challenging Democrat Rep. Bobby Bright in Alabama's 2nd Congressional District and was featured in an ABC "Good Morning America" segment on the impact of the Brown campaign.
"If there ever was a time in our political landscape that really an everyday guy like myself could get into Washington at the congressional level, this would be the year to do it," Barber told ABC.
Many others see the same opportunity and, as the Associated Press notes, this has resulted in a crowded field of contested primaries nationwide. Barber's "everyday guy" campaign in Alabama pits him in a primary battle against Montgomery City Councilwoman Martha Roby, who declared her candidacy last May and has built strong support within the state GOP. There are also reports that state school board member Stephanie Bell is considering entering the Republican primary - a development that some observers say would benefit Barber, positioning him as the "un-politician" in a three-way fight.
Meanwhile, in Illinois, Andrzejewski is one of seven candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary Tuesday. The most recent poll shows him as one of five contenders within eight percentage points of each other, in a contest where a 30-percent plurality would be an unexpected landslide.
The embattled front-runner in the primary, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, has lost conservative support because of his association with Barack Obama, for whom he appeared in a 2008 presidential campaign ad. As Illinois political blogger Rich Miller notes, Obama probably didn't help Dillard at Friday's House GOP retreat when the president remarked that the moderate Republican legislator is taking heat for "saying nice things about me . . . Poor guy."
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