Capitol & State

Key Labrador ally: Tea party will take over GOP in a decade

In a national radio appearance, a leader of the key group backing Idaho GOP Congressman Raul Labrador's failed run for House leadership says it will take a decade for the tea party to capture the Republican Party.

Adam Brandon, executive director of Freedom Works, conceded Labrador didn't come "remotely close" in his race with Majority Leader-elect Kevin McCarthy, but said making the race was critical.

"Just the fact that we're challenging now for leadership positions shows that we're in the game," Brandon said during an appearance on NPR's "The Diane Rehm Show," Wednesday.

"Labrador was the only alternative and you've got to start somewhere," Brandon said. "I'm not expecting to win everything overnight. This is going to take 10 years to continue to win the hearts and minds and voters across the country."

FreedomWorks was Labrador's biggest backer, publishing a pre-election voting scorecard and using social media to urge supporters to call their lawmakers and urge them to vote for Labrador. No vote count was announced when McCarthy was elected by the 233-member GOP caucus last week. After the vote, Labrador asked that McCarthy's win be made unanimous.

Brandon's comments offer insight into the movement that considers Labrador, 46, one of its rising stars. Following his loss, Labrador didn't rule out running again for leadership after the November election and said he'd work to sit down and speak with every member of his caucus to get to know them for a possible future race.

Asked why tea party faithful don't form their own party, Brandon offered a blunt reply: "The simple answer is that third parties, particularly in America, haven't worked. But we do have an opportunity to take over the GOP....It's going to take us multiple election cycles to change things but I believe we're building what we call at FreedomWorks the Liberty Caucus. And we're getting stronger and stronger in both houses of Congress."

While disappointed with Tuesday's win by Sen. Thad Cochran in the Mississippi GOP primary over tea party state Sen. Chris McDaniel, Brandon said the manner of Cochran's victory is a plus.

"I actually woke up shockingly optimistic this morning because if you see what the old GOP-K Street establishment had to do to win, I think their time's about up," Brandon said.

"I think we'll look back in history and see this was kind of that high-water mark where they finally have been exposed. The only way they're going to win these elections is by bringing in Democratic voters. That's not a way to build a winning strategy."

Contrary to conventional thinking that Cochran's win boosts GOP chances to win control of the Senate, Brandon said tea party voters may stay home and help elect a conservative Democrat.

"These folks that we're talking about — they really don't care about the partisan angle. What they care about is the policy angle," Brandon said. "So if they're not inspired, they may not turn out. They may decide it's more fun to watch college football this weekend than go out door-to-door again."

A similar argument is being made by Idaho Republicans who supported Sen. Russ Fulcher's losing challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter, saying it could help Democrat A.J. Balukoff. Threats of withholding support have colored the ongoing battle over control of the Idaho Republican Party apparatus. Bonneville GOP Chairman Doyle Beck has said he won't support Otter.

Brandon said the heart of the tea party message is fiscal restraint and shrinking government and that social issues split the coalition. Concentrating on spending, debt and deficit is the path to controlling the national party, he said.

"If you fast forward the GOP — in 10 years it's going to be a much more libertarian GOP than it is today," Brandon said, adding that the establishment's reliance on aging incumbents is a losing proposition.

"While the K Street lobbyists are rallying to 70- and 80-year old senators to keep them in power, we're building the bench," Brandon said. "So in five years, the bench is going to be completely our team and our guys tend to be younger....Time is on our side."