What Tuesday's Results Mean For GOP, Tea Party

Tuesday's election results brought a measure of redemption for the Republican Party after back-to-back elections where they suffered huge losses. From Columbus, Ohio, NPR's Don Gonyea looks over the elections — and what they mean for the GOP and the Tea Party.

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Yesterday's election results brought redemption for the Republican Party after big losses in 2006 and 2008. But as the GOP looks ahead, it faces the same troubled economy that has bedeviled Democrats. It faces voters impatient for change. And Republicans must contend with a new force in their own ranks, a growing Tea Party caucus in Congress.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Columbus, Ohio on the outlook for Republicans.

DON GONYEA: It seems Ohio is always pivotal in elections of late. Do well here and it's likely to be a pretty good night. It went very well for the Republicans yesterday. They captured the governorship, retained the U.S. Senate seat and knocked off all five Democratic members of Congress they targeted. An ebullient state GOP chairman Kevin DeWine captured the mood.

Mr. KEVIN DeWINE (Chairman, Ohio Republican Party): Two years ago, they said that our party was dead. They had written the obituary. Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, I stand up here as the chairman of the Ohio Republican Party and declare that the Republican Party is alive and well.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: But DeWine also noted that the GOP had learned a lesson from 2006 and 2008.

Mr. DeWINE: They told us to clean up our act. They told us to act like Republicans. They told us to restore their trust.

GONYEA: Across the country, a recurring theme in Republican victory speeches was that the message has been received. In Florida, Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio won by first taking on the GOP establishment in the primary and then coasted to victory.

Senator-elect MARCO RUBIO (Republican, Florida): And what Americans are looking for desperately are people that will go to Washington, D.C. and stand up to this agenda that is taking us in the wrong direction and...

GONYEA: Then there's the man who toppled Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold, businessman Ron Johnson.

Senator-elect RON JOHNSON (Republican, Wisconsin): Well, we know what we need to do. We need to restore fiscal sanity to this nation.

GONYEA: Johnson, Rubio and Rand Paul in Kentucky were the best examples of the power of the Tea Party movement. But there were also places where the Tea Party hurt GOP chances of winning even more. Christine O'Donnell in Delaware and Sharron Angle in Nevada, who lost to Harry Reid.

Ms. SHARRON ANGLE (Republican Senatorial Candidate, Nevada): I am so proud to call you friends because we know how to win and we know how to lose.

GONYEA: The failure to knock off Democratic leader Reid was perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of the night for Republicans. The question now is, how will the new Tea Party caucus in Congress work with the GOP leadership? They will push the party to the right and will likely challenge some of the institutional traditions of the Congress.

Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina helped many of those very conservative newcomers with campaign cash and endorsements.

Senator JIM DeMINT (Republican, South Carolina): We all run as conservatives. We talk about limited government. Everyone says we need to reform our tax code. It's just a matter of getting us all moving in the same direction because we're already saying the same things.

GONYEA: Republican strategist Mike Murphy says Republicans need to keep in mind that their victory yesterday was a result of a well-run campaign, but also this:

Mr. MIKE MURPHY (Republican Political Consultant): I think the election was mostly a negative referendum on President Obama and the Democrats.

GONYEA: Murphy has long cautioned that Republicans not interpret unpopularity of Democrats as a validation of the GOP, which also suffers from very low approval ratings.

Mr. MURPHY: Now that we've taken this power that's been given to us by the American people, it comes with a responsibility.

GONYEA: Back in Ohio, at last night's GOP celebration, Bob Gibbs is the new congressman-elect from the 18th District. He says he feels that responsibility.

Congressman-elect BOB GIBBS (Republican, Ohio 18th District): We're going to listen to the people, that's for sure. And you got a lot of Republicans coming into Congress now that weren't there.

GONYEA: Gibbs says he sees it as a very different party before adding this note.

Congressman-elect GIBBS: Yup. It better be or we're going to be kicked out of office too.

GONYEA: And today, that's something Republicans and Democrats both know well -that voters give you very little time for celebration.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Columbus.

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