Washington (CNN) – In the wake of Rand Paul’s win last week in Kentucky’s Republican Senate primary, both national parties are trying to figure out just what to make of the Tea Party movement, the conservative, grassroots movement that backed Paul and has coalesced in opposition to policies of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats.
Democrats and Republicans disagree on the impact of the movement, and those differences were on display Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union.
Gov. Ed Rendell, D-Pennsylvania, defined the movement as “the anger that people feel towards incumbency” and added that “it has some power particularly in Republican primaries.”
But Rendell was quick to dismiss any suggestion that the conservative movement could help the GOP best Democrats in general election face-offs. Pointing to Democrats’ victory last Tuesday in a special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th congressional district, the Democratic governor said “the Tea Party was not a factor in that election at all” even though PA-12 has a track record, in Rendell’s words, of being “a Republican-performing district.”
Instead of fearing the Tea Party movement’s impact on Democrats, Rendell said the grassroots movement may be doing a disservice to the GOP.
The movement “is a difficulty for the Republican Party,” Rendell told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley.
Rendell pointed to Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (who decided to skip his state’s GOP Senate primary and run without a party affiliation) and Utah Sen. Bob Bennett (who did so poorly at a recent state convention that he did not even make it to the GOP primary) as casualties of the Tea Party movement’s fervor.
And the Democratic pol said the Tea Party movement’s influence in GOP primaries will help Democrats this November.
“I think the Tea Party movement candidates are going to be more easy to beat in a general election. I think that’s the case with Rand Paul,” Rendell told Crowley.
For his part, Minnesota’s Republican governor said he was glad to have the Tea Party movement affiliated with the GOP, despite its potential pitfalls.
The movement represents “new energy, new ideas, passion around these themes of we’ve had enough, government’s too big, the debt’s too big,” Tim Pawlenty said Sunday also on State of the Union.
“And to the extent that accrues to the Republican side of the ledger, that’s a helpful thing. We’ll take that energy. It’s still a little chaotic in some ways but it’s a good thing.
“Every generation has an insurgency in politics. It brings new energy, new people, new ideas. I’m glad that energy is on the side of the conservatives and the Republicans in most of these races,” Pawlenty said.
Pawlenty was diplomatic when discussing Dr. Rand Paul, who stumbled as he stepped onto the national political stage in the wake of his primary victory last week.
“His comments about the Civil Rights Act [of 1964] were unfortunate and he’s since then said that he would’ve voted for that civil rights act. His explanation was unfortunate – how he got to that point,” Pawlenty said of the Kentucky ophthalmologist.
Still, Pawlenty’s analysis of the political climate roughly six months before the midterm elections resonated with many of the themes of Paul’s insurgent campaign.
“I think people are sending the message,” the Minnesota governor said, “that they think government is too big, spending’s gone up too fast, and taxes are too high.
“And that’s why I think Republicans are in a better position coming into this fall than our friends on the other side of the aisle.”