Imagine how crazy it would be if Michele Bachmann lost her House seat to a Tea Partyer even more conservative than she was—that’s the equivalent of what happened on Tuesday when three-term Rep. Jean Schmidt lost the Republican primary in Ohio’s 2nd District to political rookie Brad Wenstrup. The upset was big—just last cycle, Schmitt won her primary by a whopping 40%. She lost this time by 6%.
Her loss signals a Republican Party once again struggling with Tea Party insurrection. Wenstrup, a surgeon and Iraq veteran, has almost zero political experience—he lost his only other political race against Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory in 2009. His surprise win on Tuesday came thanks to an endorsement from the Ohio Liberty Council, a coalition of Ohio Tea Party groups, and voters who applauded his support for a flat tax and a health care reform repeal.
Dubbed “Mean Jean” for her 2005 exchange with Jack Murtha in which she told him “cowards cut and run, Marines never do,” Schmidt herself was long viewed as a fiery conservative. But she was also loyal to the leadership and supported Speaker John Boehner’s bipartisan deal to raise the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011. Her fealty may have cost her.
Schmidt’s defeat shocked House Republicans and more upsets could be on the way as GOP members struggle to raise cash. House Republicans currently hold 62 districts that Obama won in 2008, and their majority hinges on 26 seats. If they don’t address tension in their own party, the House could flip.