Within the fragmented tea-party movement reshaping American politics, one group has proved especially skilled at winning elections.
The Tea Party Express played a central role upending Republican primaries in Nevada, Alaska and, this week, Delaware, raising millions of dollars to help topple candidates favored by GOP bosses.
Most groups in the populist tea-party movement channel their energies through grass-roots organizing and social networking. The Tea Party Express, by contrast, is driven by a Republican consultant with a more conventional approach.
Sal Russo, 63 years old, a longtime California GOP operative and former aide to Ronald Reagan, runs Tea Party Express out of his Sacramento, Calif., consulting firm.
As chief strategist, he sends out solicitation emails to the group’s list of 400,000 addresses—carrying subject lines such as “Harry Reid Doesn’t Want You to See This”—and crafts the messages carried in TV and radio ads and in mailings.
“The establishment in the Washington beltway gets it wrong all the time,” Mr. Russo said. Republican Party leaders too often recruit candidates who fit the ideological profiles of their states and districts, he argued, rather than seeking out dynamic, new voices.
“The answer is having bold colors, not pale pastels, to create a clear contrast with the opposition,” he said.
That, he added, was what the Tea Party Express did best. It also picks its shots in small states, where limited spending can turn the tide.