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Missouri’s Primary Results: the Effects of the Tea Party and Pizza Coupons

As this blog has noted in many posts, despite the media coverage of the political movement known as the tea party, it is difficult to tell what its impact is or will be in the fall. Looking at the results of the Missouri’s Tuesday primary though one of our Patchwork Nation communities, Nixa in Christian County, is an example of why.

Christian County is an Evangelical Epicenter in Patchwork Nation, one of the culturally conservative counties that has not found much to like about the state of the government since the election of Barack Obama. And the Tea Party has made some inroads in the area, with a decent number of registered members in Christian and the surrounding Evangelical counties.

And yet, “tea party candidates” for the U.S. Senate and House did not do well there.

The winner of the Republican primary for the Senate seat was Rep. Roy Blunt, who has been Nixa’s congressman, but who tea party groups in Missouri expressly did not support. Meanwhile, the next GOP nominee for Blunt’s old seat, a cowboy-hat-wearing former auctioneer named Billy Long, was also not on the tea party’s favorite list. At least not with many tea partiers in Nixa.

How do we know? One Patchwork Nation source on the ground in Nixa found out with a pizza coupon.

Buy One, Get One Free … and a Constitution

John Schmalzbauer, a Patchwork Nation blogger in Nixa and a professor at Missouri State University, wrote about a packet he recently received in his mailbox that included brochures for Republican Senate candidate Chuck Purgason and Republican House candidate Mike Moon. It also included a flier with this message, writes Schmalzbauer:

“The August 3rd 2010 primary election is vitally important. Voting ‘YES’ on Proposition C means no to Obama ‘CARE’. Missouri will be the tipping point as to whether our nation proceeds into European Socialism or not. Your vote will give the entire nation our message from Missouri, it is vitally important you and your friends get Proposition C passed. Enclosed in this door hanger bag is a Godfather’s Pizza Menu. Bring this piece of paper along with that menu and you get a Buy One Get One Free Buffet, which is good till Dec. 31, 2010 in Nixa & Ozark. Also, while supplies last, go to any IHOP in Springfield or Branson, Mo and get a FREE pocket Constitution.”

The packet of materials shows the tea party movement in the area is at least organized, but the failures of Purgason and Moon show it may not be a major force in the area — at least when it comes to pushing for candidates.

“The only winner from the packet I received was Christian County Presiding Commissioner candidate Lou Lapaglia,” Schmalzbauer writes. “Lou was a favorite of at least one Democrat running for office, so he wasn’t perceived in the same way as Purgason and the others.”

“Billy Long got a good share of the vote. He won the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life and [former Arkansas Governor] Mike Huckabee’s group, as well as former SW Missouri Congressman Mel Hancock (a real favorite at tea parties). At the same time, some conservatives didn’t like him (such as the website ‘Long is Wrong’). There was negative campaigning against him.”

Not enough to stop him though. Blunt, it should be noted, also had the Right to Life and Huckabee endorsements. And if there is an immediate lesson out of Nixa and Christian County it is that in Evangelical Epicenters, even if there is a tea party presence, it is still the voices of the Christian Right that hold the real sway.

“I wonder about the people behind the door hanger bag (which was actually put in my brick mailbox holder),” Schmalbauer wrote. “I suspect they will vote for Blunt and Long in November. They certainly won’t vote Democratic. But it appears that a slice of the tea party movement … is disappointed today.”

The Proposition C Win

Of course, tea party members did have the Proposition C victory to celebrate. Proposition C carries no weight legally but was a way for the voters of Missouri to register dissatisfaction with the health care reform bill passed this spring. It promised to “deny the government authority to penalize citizens for refusing to purchase private health insurance or infringe upon the right to offer or accept direct payment for lawful healthcare services.”

But hailing the measure’s victory as a win for the tea party may also miss the point. In conservative communities opposition to this year’s health care reform bill goes far beyond the tea party movement. In Christian County, more people voted in favor of the proposal than any person on the ballot: 12,556 votes or 82 percent.

That’s not to say the tea party isn’t celebrating the win for the measure. It’s just that many others are as well to. In fact, statewide Proposal C won 71 percent of the vote with more than 667,000 votes. That was more than all the votes for the GOP candidates for U.S. Senate combined.