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Dems seize on tea party candidates' social stances

The conservative tea party movement was born in anger over the recession and the Obama administration's bailouts, and built largely on a platform of lower taxes and smaller government. But some of its candidates are getting tripped up on social issues.

world Updated: Oct 12, 2010 11:51 IST

The conservative tea party movement was born in anger over the recession and the Obama administration's bailouts, and built largely on a platform of lower taxes and smaller government. But some of its candidates are getting tripped up on social issues.

In New York, Carl Paladino, the tea party-backed Republican, caused a furor among Democrats when he said that children shouldn't be "brainwashed" into thinking homosexuality is acceptable. In Colorado, Republican Senate nominee Ken Buck has tried to deflect questions about his stance against abortion rights.

In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has come under fire over the conservative religious views she espoused as a TV commentator, including preaching against the evils of masturbation. And in Nevada, Senate candidate Sharron Angle, a Southern Baptist, has called herself a faith-based politician.

She opposes abortion in all circumstances, including rape and incest, and doesn't believe the Constitution requires the separation of church and state.

One by one, tea party challengers have veered away from the issues of taxes and spending - or in some cases were pushed off message, either by the media or by the Democrats, who have tried to portray the insurgents not as populist alternatives to mainstream Republicans but as party regulars.

"It is clear that the Democrats and many of their allies in the media will attack the Republicans for being 'too extreme,"' William Mayer,an associate professor of political science at Northeastern University, wrote.

Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor, said his research shows tea party activists are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans.

Alan Abramowitz said candidates have been questioned on their social views by reporters and by Democrats more now that they have emerged as Republican nominees: "There's more attention to it now, now that they are actually running their general election campaigns."

Some tea party candidates are trying to moderate their social views or deflect attention from them back to the economy.

In Denver, Buck is challenging Sen Michael Bennet, who was appointed to his post after Colorado Sen Ken Salazar was named Interior Secretary.

Buck opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest. He endorsed a state constitutional amendment that would give fetuses constitutional rights, then withdrew his support after doctors and lawyers pointed out it would also ban some types of fertility treatments and emergency contraception.

"Democrats see this as an opportunity to discredit Ken Buck, but I think most people are smart enough to know one person isn't going to be able to do away with Roe v Wade," said Bobbie Chiles, president of the South Platte Republican Women's Club.

Tea party Republican Rand Paul, opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York City. But he doesn't talk about it much.

"I say the top three issues of the tea party movement are the debt, the debt and the debt," Paul said in a recent campaign stop to a group dedicated to smaller government.

But in May he took heat for a rambling interview in which he expressed misgivings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and appeared to suggest that businesses be allowed to deny service to blacks without fear of federal interference.

Paul scrambled in a statement saying, "I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person."

In Alaska, tea party Senate candidate Joe Miller says he is "unequivocally pro-life," and also opposes hate crime laws as violations of free-speech and equal protection under the Constitution.

Paladino spent Monday's Columbus Day Parade fending off a stream of criticism from Democrats for his comments the night before to a group of Orthodox Jewish leaders.

"That's not how God created us," Paladino said on Sunday of homosexuality, "and that's not the example that we should be showing our children."

Paladino added that children who later in life choose to marry people of the opposite sex and raise families would be "much better off and much more successful."

"I don't want them to be brainwashed into thinking that homosexuality is an equally valid and successful option," he said.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo called Paladino's comments "reckless and divisive ... (the) worst cynical politics," especially since they come as New York City police investigate reports that three men were tortured in a night of anti-gay bias in the Bronx.

"It is repugnant to the concept of what New York is," Cuomo said.

"We celebrate our diversity." State Sen. Thomas Duane, an openly gay Democrat, said he was "enraged" by Paladino's "despicable rhetoric, which does cause people to hate themselves and commit suicide."

Paladino insisted his opposition to gay marriage and "brainwashing" in schools about gay life is a view held by millions of New Yorkers.

"I unequivocally support gay rights, unequivocally," Paladino said.

He noted that he has a gay nephew who works for his campaign. "The one thing that I don't (support) is marriage. I'm a Catholic," Paladino said. "I believe in the Catholic position on it and if Andrew doesn't like it, he should go see a priest."

The tea party is a loose-knit coalition of community groups largely made up of people with conservative and libertarian views who say the government spends and taxes too much.

The movement's name is taken from the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 protest in which activists in the then-British colonies in America boarded ships and threw their cargo of English tea into Boston Harbor in a symbolic act of protest against taxation without representation.

First Published: Oct 12, 2010 11:07 IST