Businessman Rick Barber (R) is trying to make the Republican primary in Alabama's 2nd House district a national referendum on the party's Washington leadership.
"I believe all politics are national this year. You saw what happened with Scott Brown," Barber told The Hill. "My strategy is: hit it from both a local and a somewhat national [angle] because I want the rest of the nation to be inspired that hopefully more candidates like myself step up."
Barber's strategy is reminiscent of conservative Doug Hoffman, who ran in New York's special House election last year. Hoffman tried to marginalize the more moderate Republican candidate in the race and as a result his campaign became a cause célèbre for conservatives across the country. Barber has hired some of Hoffman's former staff and is beginning to generate buzz among conservative activists and bloggers.
RedState's Erick Erickson has endorsed Barber -- via Twitter -- and the Liberty First PAC, which was formed by several Tea Party leaders, has pledged to donate to his campaign. He's also been featured on ABC's "Good Morning America," which sought him out as an example of the Tea Party movement flexing its political muscle. "I was very active in the Tea Party since it started last year, and that's just where I'm putting my focus," Barber said. "If it turns into money, then that's great."
The problem is that, so far, it hasn't. Barber's campaign said Liberty First has yet to come through on its pledge, and the money is badly needed -- the campaign started 2010 with just over $12,000 cash on hand, according to its Federal Election Commission report. Erickson's endorsement, meanwhile, hasn't resonated in the largely rural district.
"I think it's not all about the money," said Barber. "It's the message; it's getting out, being at events."
Meanwhile, Montgomery Councilor Martha Roby, Barber's primary opponent, had close to $175,000 banked by the end of last year, according to her FEC report. And her campaign isn't ceding the Tea Party activists to Barber. "I have actively reached out to Tea Party and other conservative organizations throughout my district, gone to their meetings, heard their concerns, and am thankful to have earned support from many individuals in these groups," Roby said in a statement. "They, and many other voters across Alabama's second district have responded well to our conservative message that there's a better way to create jobs, reign in wasteful spending, and reform health care."
Barber says he has nothing against Roby's policy positions, he just thinks he's more representative of the Tea Party activists, whom he calls the future of the GOP.
"I would love to think that these people that represent the Tea Party today would be the future of the Republican Party," he said. "I think the Tea Party really represents what the Republican Party used to be. It's just they've had to identify themselves as something else because they don't want to be associated with some of the poor leadership that's in Washington today."
While Barber gains the support of Tea Party activists and the broader web-based conservative movement, Republicans strategists are waiting to see if that support pays off with campaign contributions. Otherwise, they say, it will be difficult to take his candidacy seriously.