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Davis Campaign Manager Warms to Tea Party

Just a year ago, Curtis Ellis penned an opinion piece that described tea party members as “self-absorbed, privileged children.” Today, Ellis is the chief spokesman and campaign manager for Jack Davis, the wealthy businessman running on the “Tea Party” line in New York’s 26th district special election.

Davis has vowed to spend as much as $3 million to win the May 24 contest, having qualified for the “Tea Party” ballot line earlier in the week after submitting more than 12,000 signatures.

Some Republicans fear that the deep-pocketed and well-known Davis may siphon votes away from the GOP nominee and overall favorite, Jane Corwin. But Davis may have some questions to answer about his campaign manager’s past criticism of the very movement he now hopes will propel him to victory.

“The tea party is a harbinger of midlife crisis, not political crisis,” Ellis wrote in a Feb. 24, 2010, opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times titled “Most ‘tea party’ followers are baby boomers reliving the ’60s.”

“The partyers are essentially replaying the ’60s protest paradigm. … They fancy themselves the vanguard of a revolution, when in fact they are typical self-absorbed, privileged children used to having their way — now — and uninhibited about complaining loudly when they don’t. It’s the same demographic Spiro Agnew called ‘an effete corps of impudent snobs who characterize themselves as intellectuals.’”

Ellis, an off-and-on Davis staffer since Davis switched from Republican to Democrat for a 2004 bid for Congress, also criticized the tea party movement’s message.

“The tea partyers’ pictures and sound bites are so good, no one cares that their math doesn’t add up: Cut taxes and the deficit but keep your hands off my Medicare; do something about jobs but don’t increase spending,” he wrote in the article co-authored with another Democratic consultant, Jim Spencer. “Everyone understands it’s about something deeper.”

Asked about the opinion piece Wednesday, Ellis told Roll Call that the tea party movement has largely grown up in the 13 months since he penned the editorial.

“Now, they have matured, as we saw demonstrated in the 2010 midterms,” he said. “Unlike the protest politics of the ’60s, they turned it into organizational electoral victories, which was quite impressive.”

Ellis added that he fully supports Davis’ focus — free trade and outsourcing — which is in line with tea party values.

“Sixty-one percent of the tea party people, people who identify themselves as tea party, believe that free-trade agreements and outsourcing jobs to China and Mexico and places like that is bad for the country. That is pure tea party. I’m with that. I’m down with that,” he said.

Ellis is a former New York-based political consultant who described himself as a Democrat with “progressive” politics as recently as April of 2010 on a reader blog featured on the left-leaning news site Talking Points Memo.

Asked about his politics Wednesday, Ellis said he now considers himself an Independent. And he suggested that Republican opposition researchers had spread news of his past to hurt Davis: “Clearly, it’s the same Republican operatives who pushed this over to you that are trying to push the tea party movement into their image.”

“But I have no problem standing by that [editorial],” he continued. “The beauty of Jack’s message is that he attracts people from union Democrats to Pat Buchanan John Birchers.”

Davis sought the Republican nomination in the special election to replace Rep. Chris Lee (R) in the western New York district but was not selected by county GOP chairmen, who favored Corwin. But New York’s quirky election laws allow third-party candidates to create ballot lines of their choosing if they collect enough signatures in a brief time period.

That’s what Davis did to secure the Tea Party line. Iraq War veteran David Bellavia, who is the favorite of the region’s largest tea party group, may also be on the ballot under the “Federalist” line. However, his signatures have yet to be certified by the state.

Democrats have long-shot hopes that the Republican infighting will provide a path to victory for their nominee, Erie County Clerk Kathy Hochul, in the 26th district, which is among the state’s most conservative.

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