TALLAHASSEE — For the tea party of Florida, the party however small, is definitely not over.
Members of the loosely organized and hard-to-define tea party movement were generally jubilant with Tuesday’s election with conservatives backed by the anti-spending, small government crowd having success around the country, including wins by favorite Florida candidates at the top of the ticket, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott.
But for the Florida Tea Party, an official political party that tried to capitalize on the national tea party tide, Tuesday was rough; none of its candidates in the state were elected, including candidate Raul Ismael Pantolja Rodrieguez, 26, an Orlando-area Internet radio commentator who jumped into the House District 73 race in June. Rodrieguez came out with 3 percent of the vote.
But party leaders said they were pleased with their efforts and vowed to launch a larger slate of candidates in 2012. With 20 candidates running in state House, Senate, and congressional races, the fact that voters even had a tea party candidate to vote for was pretty good, the party’s officials said.
“Our leader Fred O’Neal said he would be happy if we were still on the ballot on Election Day,” said Florida Tea Party activist Doug Guetzloe.
The more generic tea party was credited with some of the success of Rubio in winning the state’s open U.S. Senate seat and with Scott, a Naples resident, narrowly winning the governor’s race. Other tea party movement favorites who won Tuesday included Daniel Webster and Allen West, who ousted sitting U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson and Ron Klein. Newly elected members of Congress Steve Southerland and Sandy Adams also fit the movement’s general mold.
Democrats in Lee County were hoping Rodreiquez could pull between 5 percent and 6 percent away from Republican Matt Caldwell’s campaign in their effort to regain the seat last held by a Democrat in 1998. Caldwell, however, didn’t need the help as he easily outdistanced Democrat Cole Peacock by a 59 to 38 percent margin.
But candidates who actually had “Tea Party” next to their name on the ballot in Florida’s congressional races made only modest dents in their respective races, receiving less than 4 percent of the vote in multiple contests.
State legislative candidates were equally non-factors, with some exceptions, such as Jason Weakley, who took 29 percent of the vote in the District 96 state House race against Democrat Ari Porth.
Guetzloe said support for Tea Party candidates waned in the final days before Election Day, and he thought many voters at the last minute decided to go with the Republican in a given race.
“This election was to punish Obama, to punish the Democrats,” Guetzloe said. “This was the year to take back the high conservative ground and that is what it did.”
Going forward, Guetzloe said the party will try to float 100 candidates including a Tea Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, in 2012 in what may be a referendum on the Republicans as well.
“The ball is in Republicans’ court,” Guetzloe said. “We don’t think they deserve it but it’s there.”
E-mail Michael Peltier at firstname.lastname@example.org.