March 25th, 2010
05:02 PM ET
13 years ago

Tea Party group goes after 'fake' candidate

(CNN) - A national Tea Party group is firing away at what it calls a "phony" Tea Party candidate running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this year in Nevada.

Tea Party Express calls Scott Ashjian, a candidate for Senate for the Tea Party of Nevada, a "phony and a fraud" in a new Web video.

"We at the Tea Party Express have a message for Scott Ashjian, who has been trying to pretend that he's part of the Tea Party movement - get lost!" says Mark Williams, chairman of the Tea Party Express, in the video. "None of us have ever heard of you or seen you at a Tea Party rally. Nothing. We think you are a fraud who's trying to split the vote and help re-elect Harry Reid."

The video is available on the group's Web site, and a Tea Party Express spokesman tells CNN that the video has been sent out to the organization's 400,000-strong e-mail distribution list.

Tea Party Express is working to defeat Reid, who's facing a tough re-election as he battles for a fifth term in the Senate. The group is kicking off its third cross-country caravan with a rally Saturday in Searchlight, Nevada, Reid's hometown.

Former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin is scheduled to headline the event.

Tea Party Express was one of a number of Tea Party groups that helped financially support Republican Scott Brown in his upset victory in January's special Senate election in Massachusetts for the seat of the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

In a statement to CNN, Ashjian fired back, saying, "The Tea Party Express is an organization largely funded and promoted by Our Country Deserves Better PAC which is nothing more than a front for the Republican Party. Republicans have demonstrated that they will stop at nothing to keep from having real conservative values being represented on the ballot."

Tea Party Express officials say they will consider putting the Web video on broadcast and cable in Nevada if Ashjian stays in the race.

But in his statement to CNN, Ashjian doesn't sound like a candidate about to drop out of the race: "I won't back down. I won't step aside. I intend to win the conservative majority in November," he said.

Ashjian tells CNN he'll attend the Tea Party Express kick off rally in Searchlight. Tea Party Express says Ashjian is free to show up at the event, but will not be invited to take the stage.

Earlier this week, an independent Senate candidate and Tea Party backer filed a lawsuit to get Ashjian's name removed from the ballot. The candidate, Tim Fasano, tells CNN that Ashjian has "usurped the Tea Party movement's name in an effort to gain shadow support by shear virtue of running a party called the Tea Party of Nevada, which is not associated or affiliated with any Tea Party movement nationally or in this state."

Fasano adds that Ashjian "has claimed he has support of the Tea Party grassroots movement when in fact he has never - and this verified by people of many Tea Party organizations - when he's never spoken to organizers of these groups and won't speak to people in the Tea Party."

Fasano says he thinks Ashjian's bid was started by the Reid campaign as a way to "bleed off conservative votes."

Some Nevada Republicans running against Reid also are accusing Ashjian of being a fake.

"No doubt about it", says Danny Tarkanian, who is hoping to challenge Reid in November.

"Nobody in the Tea Party knows who he is. He didn't know any of the principles of the Tea Party."

Tarkanian even accuses "Harry Reid's staff, campaign, whatever" of picking Ashjian, because he's Armenian, as is Tarkanian. He explains, "They know the Armenians are very close they'll vote for each other."

The Reid camp denies any involvement in Ashjihan's campaign.

Sue Lowden, the Republican front-runner in the Senate GOP primary, according to recent polls, is the former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman. Lowden says she's been very active with Tea Party groups in Nevada.

"I am a Tea Party voter, absolutely," she says.

Which is why she tells CNN that she finds it "a little strange" that Ashjian is emerging now. "I don't know who this person is. He's never been involved with anything that I'm aware of in this state."

She doesn't know if he's a spoiler. "We'll find out for sure," she promises, adding "I've never seen him at one of our tea parties, by the way."

A recent poll conducted for the Las Vegas Review-Journal indicates Lowden and Tarkanian each beating Reid in one-on-one hypothetical general election match-ups. But add a Tea Party candidate on the ballot and that siphons off enough conservative votes to give Reid a narrow victory.

According to the survey, Reid would grab 36 percent of the vote, the Republican candidate 32 percent and the Tea Party candidate 18 percent in a possible three way showdown.

So the conspiracy theories abound from Tea Party activists and worried Republicans: Ashjian's never attended Tea Party rallies; he hasn't coordinated with local organizers; Barry Levinson, the secretary of the Tea Party of Nevada - which Ashjihan created - is a self-acknowledged registered Democrat.

Levinson tells CNN, "I vote the person not the party" and calls the accusations "political garbage."

Ashjian seems to find the fuss amusing. New to the political scene, he personally gave CNN directions to his house for an interview in which his wife, daughter and bulldog attended. He told us it was the first time he'd spoken with the national media. Ashjian, who helped form the Tea Party of Nevada just to run for this seat, laughs that he'd never take marching orders from the Democrats or Harry Reid.

"I have never met Harry Reid, do not agree at all with any of his political values," says Ashjian, adding that he's not the kind of guy "who would follow or be told what to do."

He says he's fielded endless calls from Republicans trying to strong arm him to leave the race and resents it.

"I don't think Republicans own the Tea Party," Ashjian tells CNN. "In fact I know they don't in Nevada, because I do. That's what's really got them in an uproar."

He says he's been informed he's not welcome on the bus when the Tea Party rolls into Nevada.

Ashjian says he got into the race, because, "We are patriots that want change. We're normal people that want to make a difference."

As for Reid, an aide dismisses the accusations - as does Reid, who says he's never met Ashjian or "anyone in his family."

Reid tells CNN, "I think there are too many conspiratorialists in the world today. This is a free country."

- CNN's Kevin Bohn contributed to this report.

Filed under: 2010 • Harry Reid • Nevada • Tea Party Express • Tea Party movement
soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. The Unsub

    Bush was a fake president.

    March 25, 2010 06:26 pm at 6:26 pm |
  2. El Kababa

    It's "conspirators" not "conspiratorialists." Conspirators is a fine word; those who breathe together, who work together in secret.

    As for the tea party candidate, did your ancestors have to come over on the Mayflower for you to be qualified? Do you have to be initiated? I am a Liberal, but I don't have a membership card that shows I am a member of the exclusive Liberals' Club. I just call myself a Liberal and that's that.

    Of course, the issue is that the Tea Party movement is completely a creature of the Republican Party, and the organizers are Republican operatives. They don't want anyone splitting the Republican vote. Those tea party members who imagine that they are not lackeys for the Republican Party are being fooled by their leadership.

    March 25, 2010 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  3. hongli

    All TEA-PARTY movements should be banned. These MORONS are no good for the development of the United States in these times.

    March 25, 2010 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  4. Michael

    Ashjian is a nutjob like all the other TEA partiers. The irony is that they are rejecting a valuable fellow nutjob just because "that sounds like some kinda FURRIN name...he must be a commie"

    March 25, 2010 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  5. Eric

    Wonder how much Mrs. Palin is being paid to headline the event?

    As for Mrs. Lowden, she's emphatically NOT a Tea Partier She supports big government by denying same-sex marriage (government intrusion), and the Patriot Act (wiretapping and email searches) supports big government spending (the Iraq and Afghanistan wars); she does not defend a strict interpretation of the Constitution (since the first Amendment on the Bill of Rights prohibits the Federal Government from establishing a religion and protecting the rights of of people to free exercise of religion ( same-sex marriage is a religious issue). I have yet to hear her views on a woman's right to abortion - which is being chipped away at by state and local governments.

    March 25, 2010 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  6. Reid has an 8% approval rating.....

    he's already started taking down the drapes in his office.....8 months and counting.....

    March 25, 2010 07:33 pm at 7:33 pm |
  7. Olaf Big

    This is ingenuous! Life beats art. It's better than "All the Kings Men.." Tea party has no organization, no program except hate for anything remotely liberal or even centrist, so how can they claim that Ashjian is not authentic? Anybody who cares to call himself a teapartier (English teachers everywhere, forgive me...) is a teapartier. Way to go Mr. Ashjian! Have a good run Senator Reid!

    March 25, 2010 07:36 pm at 7:36 pm |
  8. Capsaicin

    Maybe this will make the Tea Partiers start examining their own origins in the search for 'authetic' tea partiers vs. those that are corporate-funded imposters. Good luck with that! When they realize Dick Armey and other right wing funding groups are at the source of much of the manufactured outrage, they'll have to admit that this Nevada guy, authentic or not, appears to be more of an everyday Joe American than many of those in their organization(s).

    March 25, 2010 07:44 pm at 7:44 pm |
  9. T'SAH from Virginia

    The difference between the Tea Party and the Coffe Party is ONE, We are more CIVIL – TWO, we're not ROWDY and LOUD – THREE, we most likely would not 'publicize' who we are backing unless we are SURE – and FOUR, It's about COFFEE – not tea – YOU and ME!!!

    March 25, 2010 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  10. T'SAH from Virginia

    I LOVE it....

    I said it before and I will say it again РTHIS IS ALL BACKFIRING ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY... They should have SET it STRAIGHT in the beginning but instead, they hid behind the Tea Party’s SKIRT allowing them to do their DIRTY WORK!!!. Now, they cannot break away... Tisk, tisk, tisk!!

    March 25, 2010 09:02 pm at 9:02 pm |
1 2