Tea Party candidates, by the numbers 

So the big stories coming out of Tuesday night’s primaries focus on big wins for Democrats and reasons for the White House to breathe a easier. But MSNBC’s First Read blog notes that amidst the ruckus, the Tea Party also managed to snap up its fourth primary victory.

“In Colorado last night, Ken Buck held on to defeat establishment-backed Jane Norton, making him the fourth Tea Party candidate to win a Republican Senate primary this year, joining Rand Paul in Kentucky, Sharron Angle in Nevada, and Mike Lee in Utah. And then you have Marco Rubio in Florida, who won his primary by default.”

Good catch. But then the MSNBC crew go on to forward an analysis that I keep hearing a lot from within liberal circles about the ultimate viability of Tea Party candidates.

“On the other hand, there are legitimate concerns about whether Buck, Paul, and Angle are their party's best nominees and if they could enable Democrats to win these Senate contests in an environment where nearly everything is going the GOP's way.”

I mean, I get why liberals want to make this the narrative leading up to the midterms. There is a perception that, despite all its exuberance, the Tea Party movement is deeply unpopular with most Americans. Given how entrenched the Democratic gap on pretty much all generic midterm ballots is, some liberals see painting the GOP as a party taken over by Tea Party radicals as their best chance of winning, or at least mitigating losses.

But, putting allegations of liberal bias aside for a second, I’m not sure I understand why a media outlet like MSNBC feels comfortable parroting this line of thinking. The available numbers just don’t bear it out.

Taking each of the examples the MSNBC presents in turn:

Ken Buck: with numbers gathered as recently as last week, polling shows Buck ahead of Democratic candidate Michael Bennet 45.% to 43.3% with a majority of polls (excepting unreliable Democratic polling outfit Public Policy Polling) posting significant leads for Buck.

Rand Paul: a string of cringe inducing gaffes and now an Esquire expose about his exotic college exploits have undoubtedly had an impact on Rand Paul’s high watermark of support in April, with his approval rating trending downwards. That said, as of last week’s numbers, Paul continued to outpace Conway 45.1% to 42.6%.

Sharon Angle: Angle’s pitched battle with Senat Majority Leader Harry Reid has been a media spotlight for a number of weeks now. Since about May, Angle has been trending downwards and Reid upwards such that the current standings show Reid with an advantage at 45% to Angle’s 43%.

Mike Lee: numbers are pretty sparse on the Utah race, but a June 23 report from Rasmussen showed Lee with a commanding 30 point lead over Democrat Sam Granato (58% to 28%).

Marco Rubio: after a precipitous drop off in support over June, independent candidate Charlie Crist seems to have regained his footing in the Florida race. But not enough to give him any breathing room from closest competitor Marco Rubio. Rubio and Crist are currently in a neck-and-neck race with 36.4% and 37.1% respectively, a difference of only 0.7%. Democrat Jefferey Greene trails at 19.3%.

Looking at those numbers, I don’t know how you come to the conclusion that Tea Party candidates aren’t viable in their given races. Of the five I looked at, three are actually leading polling right now (Lee ostensibly by a very wide margin) and two are trailing by very small margins.

Only one Tea Party candidate has taken a commanding lead of yet, but then that isn’t really the point. Whether they are leading or trailing, the point here is that the factual data supports the notion that regardless of who you look at, Tea Party candidates are engaged in heated races with each of their Democratic opponents -- and in one case a race with an independent candidates that is leaving the Democrat in the dust.

Speculating that Tea Party candidates could wind up costing Republicans seats in November might make for good spin. But a look at the numbers reveals that, at least at this point, it isn’t very good reporting.

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