Corker , on Mission to Reform Spending, Responds to Being on Tea Party Purge List

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Corker at City Hall on Thursday
  • JB
  • Corker at City Hall on Thursday
The GOP's Bob Corker, Tennessee's junior U.S. Senator, belongs to the party that romped all over the opposition in the 2010 election cycle. He pulled his oar by making a well-noted late appearance on behalf of one of his party’s few really long-odds hopefuls, 9th congressional District candidate Charlotte Bergmann, a bona fide Tea Partier.

That Bergmann was hazarding the impossible task of running against incumbent Democrat Steve Cohen in the staunchly Democratic 9th is almost beside the point. Corker showed himself (almost against his better instincts, one imagines) to be a team player.

So how, one day after the Tsunami election in which Republicans, statewide and nationally, won almost everything in sight, did Corker end up on the hit list of an influential Tea Party/Republican blog, Red State.org?

Erick Erickson, the site’s proprietor, listed the 12 Republican senators up for reelection in 2012, and narrowed the list down to five Republicans he considered choice targets for Tea Party-sponsored candidates to take on in the primary races. And Corker, along with Mississippi’s Roger Wicker, was pointedly referenced a second time, with Erickson insisting that the two of them “in particular make exciting prospects for the tea party movement.”

After making a speech at City Hall Thursday evening in which he advocated serious reductions in federal spending, Corker was asked about his presence on the hit list.

“I’ve been through this before,” said Corker, who four years ago narrowly defeated Democrat Harold Ford Jr. to win his seat. “In 2006 people tried to nationalize the race I was involved in. This is a small group of people, Washington-centrric, who don’t like the fact that I actually think about what I do, that I actually ask questions about bills, that I just don’t automatically jump up and say ‘yes’ when the electric shock hits the chair. OK? And that concerns some people.

“Yet I think if you look at people in Tennessee, we actually have some data that, when Bill Haslam was running for governor, they polled, Tea Party people in Tennessee actually support me more than Republicans do. So this is a Washington-centric deal. It’s very Washington-centric….What happens is, you have a handful of people who try to manipulate movements like this, and that’s just the way it is….”

Corker’s staff would subsequently forward copies of the poll he referred to, one done by GOP pollsters Whit Ayres and Dan Judy, a portion of which reads as follows:

“The strongest supporters of the Tea Party movement give Senator Corker a nearly five-to-one favorable to unfavorable rating. In a statewide survey conducted June 1-3, also with 600 likely Republican primary voters, we found that voters who support the Tea Party movement and have attended or plan to attend a rally give him a 72 to 15 percent rating, compared to an 81 to 7 percent rating among voters who support the movement but would not attend a rally, and a 69 to 15 percent rating among voters who do not support the movement.”

Of course, it remains to be seen if (a) Corker is the object of an organized Tea Party purge attempt in the Republican primary of 2012; and (b) native Tennesseans join in such an effort seriously.

In any case, the senator’s presence on such a purge list could be considered an anomaly. Corker is a conservative’s conservative, especially on economic matters. He was one of Congress’ most serious opponents of bailouts for the financial and automotive industries, and his speech Thursday was the 41st occasion on which he formally stated his warning against excessive federal spending

Essentially, what the senator proposes is that Congress fix spending levels at a specific percentage of the country’s annual Gross National Product (GNP) — doing so by averaging out GDP figures for a span of years — and his own recommended spending level is 18 percent — which is 2.5 percent lower than the 50-year average and represents a ceiling that Corker believes would yield balanced budgets.
The senator is also an advocate of bipartisan cooperation in seeking his ends, and this may be the sticking point with Erickson et al.

In a Q-and-A with the audience following his remarks, Corker found himself beset by activists and partisans of various stripes, most of whom made longish, hectoring speeches rather than asking questions per se. There were critics of his economic plan, advocates of liberalized immigration laws, opponents of the Federal Reserve, and one impassioned supporter of a bill that would put FedEx under stricter labor legislation.

The senator patiently heard them all about, agreeing when he could, stating his opposition when he couldn’t, and, in other cases, honestly acknowledging he needed to know more about the proposed measure.

All in a day’s work, his aides explained, and the kind of thing he’ll doubtless get on the campaign trail in 2012 if the proposed purge effort actually gets under way.

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