On Monday afternoon, ThinkProgress sat down with newly elected Rep. Charles Djou (R-HI) to discuss his views on policy and the state of the Republican Party. Djou won his seat with the help of national tea party groups, including the Tax Day Tea Party and American Liberty Alliance. Eric Odom, a the national tea party organizer profiled by ThinkProgress in February, and his cohorts even traveled to Hawaii to help get out the vote while running ads through his Liberty First PAC in support of Djou. In the interview with ThinkProgress however, Djou would not call himself a tea party candidate, and momentarily forgot the name of Eric Odom. Although Djou said he would not “turn away” tea party support, he made sure to tell us that the tea party made a very small impact in his race:
TP: Would you consider yourself a tea party candidate?
DJOU: Would I consider myself a tea party candidate? You know, you’d have to ask the tea party that instead of me. You know the tea party, even though it exists in Hawaii, isn’t really that big and really isn’t as big as perhaps in other U.S. states. I guess my description of the tea party is similar that of President Obama’s description in that they have very legitimate concerns, legitimate concerns that I share.
TP: What about Eric Odom? He came to Hawaii to help you be elected to Congress and he’s a national tea party organizer, long time Republican activist. Do you think your victory owes a little bit to his involvement in your race, or not at all?
DJOU: Uh, heh, first of all, you mention the name Eric Odom. I had to pause and think, who is that? You know I’m happy for a lot of support I got from a lot of entities from around this country in my race, but my race ultimately was won by the hard work of volunteers on the ground in Hawaii by Hawaii residents. I mean if you look back in term of the number of volunteers, the amount of money I raised from the tea party, I would be very surprised if it was more than one or two percentage points in terms of both volunteer time as well as financial support. With all that said here, I don’t want to minimize here and say I don’t want tea party support or I’m going to turn it away. I did not, I will not. But I mean, the tea party had as much influence as any other interest group that gave one percent or two percent of volunteer time and financial support to my campaign, and you can probably list three dozen organizations that fit in that mold.
After his special election in a traditionally progressive state, Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) similarly distanced himself from the tea parties. Like Djou, Brown relied on tea party enthusiasm, money, and grassroots activism for his campaign victory. But after being sworn into office, Brown has not spoken at tea party rallies, called himself a tea party candidate, and even declined an invitation at a major Boston tea party rally.