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Tea party pushing for seats at the table in Ohio

As the 2014 elections take shape, the tea party movement is making strides to gain influence within the Ohio Republican Party and win seats in the General Assembly — all markers that the tea party is becoming more aggressive and strategic in Ohio.

Although there is still an internal debate — join the Republicans or stand independent of them — the tea party movement is backing 25 to 35 candidates for seats on the 66-member Ohio GOP state central committee. It’s a little known body with significant say over which candidates get endorsements and financial support and who runs the state party.

“It’s an ongoing debate. Do you really want to get your nose in that tent or not?” said Don Birdsall, past president of the Dayton Tea Party. “The strategy has been and will be for the next couple of cycles is try to get people elected to the central committee to influence the decisions made.”

In particular, Birdsall said tea party-minded people don’t like the Ohio GOP policy of endorsing incumbents since that squeezes out challengers.

It is unclear how many central committee candidates submitted enough petitions to make the May 6 primary ballot since county boards of elections are still in the certification process.

Establishment Republicans are sounding a don’t-beat-us-join-us message.

“There is nothing wrong with challenging Republicans but I would think that rather than attack or challenge conservative Republicans they might join the Republican Party and try to get Republicans elected,” said former Montgomery County GOP Chairman Pat Flanagan, who is facing a challenge from Charles Henthorn for a seat on the state central committee. “We’re fighting the Democratic party. To try to chop up the Republican party is, I believe, counter productive to their main goal.”

Tea party activist Tom Zawistowski, president of the We the People Convention and the Ohio Citizens PAC, said the picture is still foggy about which tea party-backed legislative candidates made the primary ballot but it looks like several will challenge incumbent state senators and about 15 will go up against House members.

“I’m proud of these people who put their names out there and dared to challenge the establishment. It’s an act of courage to step up and say I want to give people a choice. It’s a courageous act,” Zawistowski said.

In the Miami Valley, tea party-backed candidates are running for legislative seats.

In Warren County, state Sen. Shannon Jones, R-Springboro, faces a primary challenge from tea party-backed Kelly Kohls, a former Springboro school board member. In Miami County, tea party-backed Joe LeMaster is in a primary with two other Republican candidates seeking to succeed state Rep. Richard Adams, R-Troy, who decided against running for re-election.

In Clark County, three conservative Republicans are running for a seat now held by moderate Republican Ross McGregor who is leaving office because of term limits. Clark County GOP chairwoman Lynda Smith said the local party doesn’t endorse in the primary and she isn’t sure which of the three men would be considered the tea party favorite.

In the 10th District congressional race, incumbent Republican Mike Turner is facing another primary challenge from John D. Anderson, who lost to Turner by 62 percentage points in the 2012 primary.”

Anderson, who is backed by tea party elements, is also running against former Congressman Steve Austria for a seat on the Ohio GOP’s central committee. Seats at that table will give tea party members a say in advancing true conservatives, he said. “We don’t want these milquetoast candidates who stand for nothing,” Anderson said.

Zawistowski noted that the hottest Republican primary may be the match up of incumbent U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce against state Rep. Matt Lynch, R-Solon. Lynch was facing a challenge for re-election to the Ohio House and decided to take on Joyce in the northeastern Ohio district.

“Unlike my opponent, I have proven that when the liberal Republican establishment has attempted to bully me into betraying conservatives to support their destructive and intrusive liberal policies, I have stood up to them and and will not sell out the people who elected me,” Lynch says on his campaign website.

Zawistowski predicts that the Joyce-Lynch race will receive national attention.

Perhaps the tea party’s most ambitious goal this year is to oust Republican John Boehner, who as speaker of the U.S. House is one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C. and has vast campaign resources at his disposal.

Ohio GOP spokesman Chris Schrimpf said it’s a waste of time. “They’re not going to beat Speaker Boehner and there’s no reason they should even try.”

But three men don’t see it that way. Matthew Ashworth, J.D. Winteregg and Eric Gurr — each of whom claim tea party affinity — are running as Republicans against Boehner in the primary for the 8th Congressional district seat. The district includes Butler, Clark, Miami, Preble and Darke counties and part of Mercer County.

Boehner has held the seat since 1990 and has been U.S. House speaker since January 2011 and has earned stellar ratings from the American Conservative Union in years past. But he’s not conservative enough in the eyes of tea party activists who say he has turned his back on principles.

On his web page, Gurr says Boehner’s support for immigration reform, the financial industry bailout and his willingess to compromise with Democrats on federal spending are reasons he is running against the incumbent.

Winteregg, a high school French teacher from Troy, criticizes Boehner for supporting increases in the nationnal debt ceiling and the federal No Child Left Behind reform, failing to block funding for Obamacare and voting against limits on National Security Agency data collection without specific authorization.

Birdsall, who is helping Winteregg, said, “Boehner is the big thrust because he has not been principled at all on anything he said he’d do. He’s a big target. Unseating a sitting speaker would send a message to Washington that they are accountable to the voters.”

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