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Final Primaries Held Before November Midterms, Tea Party Gains Ground in GOP

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The final primaries before the November elections were held Tuesday in seven states and the District of Columbia. In Delaware, tea party-backed candidate Christine O’Donnell scored an upset by winning the Republican Senate nomination. In New York, tea party-backed Republican candidate Carl Paladino beat former Rep. Rick Lazio. We speak with Will Bunch, senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News and author of The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Bonn, Germany, but before we go to news here, we’re staying in the United States, because the final primaries before the November elections were held Tuesday in seven states and the District of Columbia.

In Delaware, the tea party-backed candidate, Christine O’Donnell, scored an upset by winning the Republican Senate nomination.

In New York’s gubernatorial primaries, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo secured the Democratic nomination after running unopposed. He’s going to square off against the tea party-backed Republican candidate Carl Paladino, who beat out the Republican candidate Rick Lazio.

For more, we’re joined on the telephone by Will Bunch, senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, author of the blog Attytood. His new book, just out, is called The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.

Will Bunch, welcome to Democracy Now! Why don’t you go through these races, from New Hampshire to New York to Delaware, and talk about the significance of what you call “the backlash”?

WILL BUNCH: Right. Well, you know, we saw at least two shocking results. You know, one is Christine O’Donnell, who is a very inexperienced perennial candidate and an underemployed marketing consultant, who kind of handily defeated a eighteen-year congressman in Mike Castle, a middle-of-the-road congressman in Delaware. Obviously, that was the big headline last night, although a lot of people were stunned by Carl Paladino’s victory in the New York gubernatorial race, because he had really staked out some extreme positions, not just on issues, but also he had been caught forwarding racist and even pornographic emails. And yet, the voter anger against the establishment — you know, Rick Lazio was seen as the establishment candidate — was so great that these things didn’t matter. I mean, it was stunning.

In New Hampshire, it’s too close to call, in that we’ll see — you know, that race was kind of scrambled because the tea party candidate was actually not endorsed by Sarah Palin. Sarah Palin endorsed the female candidate, Kelly Ayotte, who has a brief — who has a slight lead in that race. So we’ll have to see. And the vote counting is going very slow in New Hampshire.

But, you know, these results from Delaware and New York are stunning, and I think — you know, I think it shows a movement that, you know, is tolerating no moderation among Republicans. You know, in the case of Mike Castle, I mean, he lost any chance of getting support from Republicans when he voted for President Obama’s cap-and-trade program in 2009 and for some of his other moderate stands. You know, these voters, it was very important for them to send a message last night, and that’s what they did.

AMY GOODMAN: And in the case in New York, Rick Lazio was a longtime congressman. He certainly was running right in this race against Carl Paladino, the Buffalo real estate developer, the tea party candidate. His almost whole campaign seemed to be about ensuring that the Islamic cultural center did not get built, even near Ground Zero, yet that didn’t win it for him.

WILL BUNCH: Right. I mean, we saw that in both races, where these candidates, who were known as moderates, moved to the right. It was a little bit less dramatic with Mike Castle, but after he seemed to be considering Obama’s healthcare plan — you know, he voted against that in 2009 and 2010 — and he really moved to the right on a number of issues. And you’re right. I mean, Rick Lazio ran some over-the-top ads, TV commercials, you know, playing up, I think, Islamophobia — it’s fair to cool — about the community center proposal for Lower Manhattan. And it wasn’t enough. I mean, you know, they were determined to send a message.

AMY GOODMAN: Carl Paladino, the man who won, the tea party-backed candidate, had called for the state to seize the Park51 land by eminent domain. That’s the site where the Islamic center would be built.

WILL BUNCH: Absolutely. And, you know, he also supported a number of other extreme and conservative positions, including this idea for dignity camps for inner-city residents, you know, which is just this kind of alarming proposal to, you know, have these programs that imply that inner-city people had poor hygiene, and he wanted to get them in these programs. And, you know, all of these things in the forwarded emails, I mean, you would normally think would totally disqualify a candidate, and yet he actually won — he won easily. I think he won by 15 or 20 percentage points, so…

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, what’s interesting about Paladino’s case is that calling for eminent domain — invoking eminent domain is not a conservative position. I mean, that’s calling for —-

WILL BUNCH: Well, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —- extreme government intervention. But it seems that the hate trumps even basic small government ideology.

WILL BUNCH: Right, Amy. I mean, this is what I found when I was doing my book, The Backlash, is that, really, the driving force of this movement is cultural. The tea party movement is very concerned about what they see as cultural change in America. You know, they’re concerned about the idea that America could become a non-white nation by the year 2050. And, you know, when Barack Obama was elected as the first African American president in 2008, I think it was a jolt for people. And what I found in — I spent quite a bit of time in Delaware researching the book. And in fact, the main tea party group supporting Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware 9/12 Patriots, I profile in the book. And, you know, these people, at the core, they question Obama’s legitimacy. They question whether he’s actually a true American. And these are some of the things that really energize these people. So, getting back to Paladino and the eminent domain, I mean, the idea that he would do anything to try and stop the mosque really trumps, I think, conservative principles, because he’s appealing to these cultural fears.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting. We’re here in Bonn, Germany, and I was just speaking with someone who said that while Glenn Beck was giving his speech on the Mall, right, on the anniversary of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- and the March on Washington in 1963, John Lewis, the congressman from Atlanta, who I think is the sole surviving speaker from that podium in 1963, was here in the Bonn area speaking with people, and how upset he was about the significance of Glenn Beck on the Mall talking about, you know, reclaiming the civil rights movement. Will Bunch, can you talk about the effect of Rush Limbaugh, of Glenn Beck, of Sarah Palin on this movement?

WILL BUNCH: Right, well, I think the growth and the prosperity of this right-wing media network has really allowed for message discipline among the tea party movement. You know, what I found in doing my book is — I mean, Glenn Beck is enormously influential. And, you know, a lot of people in the tea party movement are people who have a lot of time. There’s a lot of retirees in the movement. There’s a lot of people who, you know, were kind of prematurely outsourced and are taking part in the movement. And, you know, they spend their day in a media bubble, where they’re listening to Rush Limbaugh, they’re listening to Glenn Beck, and they really are able to stay on the same page in terms of, you know, staying to this message of trying to shoot down any Republican moderation, like we saw in the Mike Castle election last night.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Will Bunch, I want to thank you very much for being with us, senior writer at the Philadelphia Daily News, author of the new book The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama.

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