James Rufus Koren, Staff Writer
Posted: 06/13/2010 09:05:33 PM PDT
If there were any doubt that Tea Party groups could have an impact at the ballot box, the case of Tim Donnelly should lay it to rest.
The Twin Peaks resident and founder of a minuteman group has never before run for office. Still, he now finds himself holding onto a 654-vote lead over opponent Chris Lancaster, a former Covina city councilman whose father was in the state Legislature.
Lancaster, an employee of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, a sister paper of The Sun, outspent Donnelly by a huge margin and had endorsements from former state legislators and a member of Congress.
But Donnelly – who, win or lose, is among the biggest stories of this election – had something Lancaster didn’t: big-time support from local Tea Party groups.
“I can’t understate the significance of the tea parties,” said Donnelly. “They were huge.”
Tea Party groups, the generally conservative, small-government-oriented groups that started springing up across the country in 2009, were visible and vocal opponents of the health care bill. But until last week, the movement hadn’t hadn’t shown it could effectively campaign for issues or candidates.
Tea Party leaders say the 59th District primary, as well as two other local elections, show they can be a serious voting and campaigning force.
“We’re just regular people who are frustrated,” said Annie Rumary, one of the leaders of the Redlands Tea Party Patriots. “Lawmakers need to recognize we’re the ones who hire them and the ones who will ultimately fire them if they don’t do what we send them to do.”
Tea Party groups in Redlands and San Bernardino endorsed Donnelly in the 59th. They also endorsed Mike Morrell, a mortgage broker who won the 63rd Assembly District’s Republican primary over, among others, the mayors of the two largest cities in the district.
Volunteers from the Redlands Tea Party Patriots and the San Bernardino County Tea Party, as well as a group in Pasadena, were especially active in Donnelly’s campaign, Donnelly said.
“Not all of them were walking precincts,” Donnelly said. “Some were making phone calls and others were just out talking to people. I was amazed … at how organized they were.”
Ross Lapham of the San Bernardino County Tea Party said voters were calling him the evening of Election Day, asking about his group’s voter guide.
“It had a pretty good impact,” Lapham said. “We sent it to 400 or 500 people at least, and who knows how many from there.”
The leader of a Tea Party group in Chino Hills said she and other group members campaigned for opponents of Rep. Gary Miller, R-Brea, who won his primary election but without a majority of votes in his district.
“What the Tea Party did was, we at least were able to disseminate information about how Gary Miller was voting,” said Kelly Good of the Chino Hills Tea Party. “It caused people to stop and seriously consider the other candidates.”
Political observers say voters in last week’s election tended to vote against establishment political figures, and, to be sure, that “outsiderism” gave both Morrell and Donnelly a boost.
But the Tea Party groups are part of that anti-insider sentiment, said Jack Pitney, a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College.
“I don’t think you can reduce outsiderism to the Tea Party groups,” he said. “But, definitely, they were part of the mix in this election.”
Tea parties appeared to have a bigger impact on local races than in statewide contests. Tea Party favorite Chuck Devore, an assemblyman from Irvine, lost to Carly Fiorina in the U.S. Senate Republican primary.
To read entire story, click here.