Politics & Government

June 11, 2014

Valley tea party sees good in Cantor defeat

It's been a tough political year for the tea party movement and the grassroots rank-and-file core of the Republican Party.

From Kentucky to Georgia to Idaho, conservative challengers have failed to oust mainstream Republican congressmen. Here in California, tea party favorite Tim Donnelly failed to make the state's gubernatorial runoff, even as polls showed him leading late in the primary campaign.

Then came Tuesday, when House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's shocking loss in his Virginia primary changed the entire 2014 narrative for the GOP.

And not a moment too soon, central San Joaquin Valley tea party activists and conservative Republicans said.

"It's pretty impressive for a movement that's supposed to be dead," said Steve Brandau, a Fresno City Council member and head coordinator of the Central Valley Tea Party.

"We are celebrating with Virginia and the rest of the country."

From the movement's leaders in the Valley like Brandau to political strategists like Michael Der Manouel Jr. to grassroots activists like real estate agent Carole Jacoby, there was celebration.

Brandau said it is part of a struggle for the heart of the Republican Party, with the GOP establishment and its money squaring off against the tea party and its energy.

It has been discouraging, however, with the losses and with a growing assumption that the tea party movement was losing ground. Donnelly's California loss to the more moderate Neel Kashkari, who will challenge Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in November, added to that disappointment.

"We keep hearing the tea party is dead," Brandau said, but inside the movement, "we know it's not true. The truth is the tea party is working feverishly like this all the time. We're just not getting as many wins because the establishment is targeting us all the time."

David Brat's win over Cantor, Brandau said, "encourages people who were discouraged. Across the country, it is a big validation of all the work we do in California. It gives us hope."

In a commentary on KMJ radio, Der Manouel, chairman of the Lincoln Club of Fresno County, said he'd "never been happier about a political outcome in my life."

It happened, he said, because the House Republican leadership -- of which Cantor is the No. 2 person -- "has been walked all over by President (Barack) Obama in every budget fight, every debt limit fight."

The leadership instead chose to present "phony budgets," mocked conservatives for trying to defund the Affordable Care Act, talked of "amnesty" for immigrants in the country illegally and never challenged Obama on his "illegal actions in changing laws."

"They've waved the white flag of surrender on issue after issue," Der Manouel said.

Der Manouel and Fresno businessman and Central Valley Tea Party media coordinator Serafin Quintanar said the House Republican leadership has put politics ahead of what's best for the country.

Quintanar said the "straw that broke the camel's back" was the immigration reform proposals brewing in the nation's capital that had some sort of pathway to citizenship for those already in the country illegally.

"He's been wishy-washy on amnesty, and so he lost support on that," Quintanar said of Cantor.

Jacoby wrote on her Facebook page: "One Down.....Established Republicans will be losing henceforth. Thank God for conservative Tea Party candidates who still maintain values and principles."

"We can only hope that people are now paying attention and making sure that they elect into office people that will stand up for all of the people," she said in an interview.

Kurtis Willey, chairman of the Fresno County Republican Party, said when candidates are sent to Washington and forget the "principles and ideals of the home district, it is the obligation of the citizens in the district to vote them out."

The Fresno GOP central committee leans strongly conservative. It endorsed Donnelly for governor over Kashkari. Still, the Cantor loss amazed even Willey, who noted the rarity of a person who is in a Washington leadership position actually losing an election.

For that reason, Der Manouel said in his commentary, the Cantor defeat takes on a special purpose for Republicans.

"Every elected Republican member of Congress needs to sit up and take notice," he said. "You're not invincible. Just ask Eric Cantor."

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