They wave signs at rallies, but the question remains: Will Tea Partiers sway the 2010 elections and, if so, where will their influence be felt the most?
“I would say the most well known races where this movement is having an impact are [in the] Senate, where establishment Republican candidates who are not fiscal conservatives are beating insurgent candidates who are,” said Max Pappas, managing director for FreedomWorks PAC.
Heading into primary season, keep an eye on these races:
This one includes Sarah Palin, Harry Reid and accusations of a phony candidacy.
Capturing Reid’s Nevada Senate seat is the top priority for the Tea Party Express, which on Thursday released its list of targeted races. “This is where we start. Harry Reid is No. 1,” Tea Party Express organizer Amy Kremer said at a press conference that day.
Figuring out who to run against the Democratic majority leader is not clear-cut for the Tea Partiers: A brouhaha followed when a Nevada businessman, Scott Ashjian, announced his candidacy and said he was running on the Tea Party ticket. A number of Tea Partiers in Nevada claimed never to have heard of Ashjian, and the Tea Party Express ran ads calling the candidate a fraud, accusing him of masterminding a plot to siphon votes from the Republican candidate and propel Reid back into office.
On Thursday, the Tea Party Express — who kicked off a nationwide bus tour in Reid’s hometown of Searchlight that featured Palin as keynote speaker — threw its support behind Sharron Angle, who most polls show running third behind Republicans Danny Tarkanian and Sue Lowden.
The bottom line: If Reid is ousted, will the credit go to Tea Partiers?
John McCain’s re-election race was noticeably absent from both the target lists of Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, the Dick Armey-run organization that has been at the forefront of Tea Party organizing. McCain challenger J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman and charismatic radio host, has been hitting the former 2008 presidential candidate hard from the right and has been courting Tea Partiers.
But last month, the McCain campaign gladly passed around a Tucson newspaper article about how he organizers of four Arizona Tea Party organizations – including the Tucson Tea Party, Greater Phoenix Tea Party, Flagstaff Tea Party and Mohave County Tea Party – declined endorsing a candidate in the race, certainly a slight to Hayworth.
The bottom line: Will McCain be able to sway enough Tea Partiers from rallying in unified force behind Hayworth?
Rand Paul, the son of Texas Rep. Ron Paul, has emerged as the Tea Party favorite against Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson for the seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Jim Bunning.
Paul, who was endorsed by Bunning, acknowledges the fuel for his candidacy provided by Tea Party activists. “I give a lot of credit to the Tea Party momentum,” he said, adding that he was “part of the Tea Party before the Tea Party existed.”
Supporters of Grayson are quick to argue that if Paul, whose views are closely aligned with his Libertarian-leaning father, wins the nomination, Democrats will have a much better chance of picking off the seat.
The bottom line: Observers will be watching the Kentucky race as a bellwether. Will the Tea Partiers nominate Republican candidates into the general election who are too conservative to win the general?
Will he stay or will he go?
Everyday, it appears clearer that Florida Gov. Charlie Crist — who at the outset of the Florida senate race had the endorsement of the National Republican Senatorial Committee — will leave the race for Republican nomination, as all signs show Tea Party darling Marco Rubio to be unbeatable.
And as more establishment Republicans — including Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Eric Cantor — throw their support behind Rubio, it seems more and more likely that Crist will ditch the GOP and run as a independent.
The bottom line: If Crist runs as an independent, will Florida prove to be a NY-23 in the general election, where two battling conservative candidates allow the Democrat candidate to win? Rep. Kendrick Meek, the Democratic candidate, and opponents of the Tea Party movement, who say the movement will do more harm to Republicans than good, hope so.
The Utah Senate race is a prime example of how the Tea Partiers anti-incumbent sentiment is not exclusive to Democrats. Tea Partiers, including FreedomWorks PAC, have largely thrown their support behind Republican Mike Lee. The state’s nomination convention is set for May 8.
“Utah will decide on May 8 whether or not it will send back incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett who voted for the Wall Street bailout and introduced health-care legislation based on an individual mandate — one of the worst and least popular parts of the Obama health-care bill,” FreedomWorks’s Pappas said.
In March, according to a Utah’s Deseret News, only one in five delegates from Utah’s 2008 Republican convention were re-elected to May’s nominating convention, meaning about 80 percent of the convention’s delegates will be what the paper called “new blood” — not good news for Bennett.
“I mean, you had various groups out there like the Tea Party and the 9/12 and other groups that have been preparing for caucuses literally for months,” said Utah Republican Party Chairman Dave Hansen, Deseret News reported.
The bottom line: If Bennett loses the primary, it shows Republicans in name aren’t immune from Tea Partiers.
While most of the fireworks are in the upcoming Republican primaries, other general elections of note include Arkansas — where Tea Partiers in the very red state are targeting Democratic Sen. Blanche Lincoln — and Pennsylvania, where conservatives would love to knock off Sen. Arlen Specter, who left the GOP to become a Democrat, and replace him with the more conservative Pat Toomey.
Issac Wood, the House race editor for Dr. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball campaign analysis Web site points out that after the primaries, so-called Tea Party candidates who don’t win could shake things up with independent or candidacies on the Tea Party ticket.
“There are months until the Independent filing deadlines in most states. I suspect you’ll see some ‘sore losers’ run on the Tea Party label if they lose the GOP primary. Rules vary by state though and are usually very constrictive on third parties and independents so it will be rare to see the words ‘Tea Party’ on the ballot,” said Wood.
What races, involving Tea Parties, are the most exciting to you? A list of House races to watch is next.