Jamie Radtke announced she was running for a U.S. Senate seat in Virginia last December, a month after five Tea Party upstarts swept into the chamber in the anti-incumbent wave. A rising star at the center of the commonwealth’s thriving Tea Party movement, Radtke “was supposed to be the Tea Party’s next giant-killer,” Dave Weigel writes.
Erick Erickson, the conservative commentator and RedState pooh-bah, certainly seemed to think so. He endorsed Radtke over establishment retread George Allen in January, giving her fledgling candidacy an early boost. The Virginia GOP showdown was shaping up as another referendum on the Tea Party’s clout, Erickson explained. Allen had committing a string of apostasies — not the Macaca comment, but rather his wobbliness on guns and debt reduction — and Erickson wrote that with voters weary of the old guard, “we need some fresh faces.”
Radtke’s candidacy hasn’t caught on. She trails Allen by more than 60 points in a Public Policy poll released this month. The former Senator is crushing her in fund-raising as well, racking up $2.77 million, more than 10 times Radtke’s haul. And now Erickson, who has championed a slew of grassroots challenges to establishment candidates, has climbed off the bandwagon. And shot holes in its tires for good measures.
The nasty spat dates back to earlier this summer, when Radtke asked Erickson for a speaking slot at a RedState convention. In a note that Radtke’s campaign manager subsequently emailed to Politico’s Ben Smith, Erickson responded that because of his employers’ ties to Allen, he’d be soft-pedaling his support for the Tea Partyer:
“My bosses are huge Allen friends, not just fans. They are socially connected,” he wrote. “So I’m having to tread carefully in this. Happy to help, but it’s got me in a difficult position. So please come and let me introduce you to people, but just understand that I have to be delicate for now.”
Radtke did get a chance to speak at the RedState event. And a few hours after Erickson’s note to Radtke appeared on Smith’s blog, Erickson penned a piece panning her performance, which he didn’t witness. The post included anonymous reviews from people who did, and who claimed that Radtke had rambled on in a drunken stupor. In the post, Erickson didn’t mask the grudge he’s nursing:
Jamie Radtke’s campaign decided to orchestrate a hit job on me in the Politico after I both endorsed her campaign and allowed her to speak at the RedState Gathering. The basic allegation is that I have not aggressively pushed her campaign because my bosses at Eagle Publishing have a relationship with George Allen and asked me not to support her. Actually, my bosses at Eagle Publishing do in fact have a relationship with George Allen, and a very good one, and asked me — after I endorsed her — to please go slow for once instead of shooting first and asking questions later. I love my bosses and my employer and the owner and was happy to accommodate their very first request in my five years of employment to go slow on an endorsement.
Radkte denies she was drinking and called the claim “libelous.”
The kerfuffle’s not a high point in the annals of journalistic independence. (And recall that a couple of months ago, RedState’s parent company, Human Events, offered to sell Erickson’s endorsement, a scheme Erickson said he was oblivious to; the blame was pinned to a rogue staffer.) But it’s ominous for Radtke as well. I’m not sure if Adam’s right that the Tea Party has peaked, but this diminishes the dwindling chances that Radtke can spring an improbable upset.
(Disclaimer: Erickson is a contributor to CNN, which, like TIME, is owned by TimeWarner.)