In Nevada, Sharron Angle is running for the Senate as a national symbol of the "tea party" movement. She’d be a national GOP hero if she knocked off Senate majority leader Harry Reid in November. Senator Reid has done his best to paint Ms. Angle as “too extreme for Nevada,” but he hasn’t managed to open up any sustained lead.
Right now, polls show the candidates in a virtual dead heat. Angle has lots of money – she raised an eye-popping $14 million in this year’s third quarter. And she made no big mistakes in Thursday’s debate, the only one scheduled for the race. In the weeks to come the Tea Party Express and other conservative political action committees are likely to pour even more cash into this race.
At least four Senate candidates with tea party ties are currently the front-runners in their elections. A handful of others are running close – close enough so that victory would not count as an upset.
In House races about 35 tea party candidates are waging viable campaigns, according to an Associated Press analysis. They are either ahead, or within a few points of their opponents.
The tea party is not an organized political party, of course, or even a movement with a national organization. It is a loosely related amalgam of local chapters and grass-roots members generally motivated by their perception that big government is taking America away from its constitutional roots.
Thus, defining who is a tea party candidate is necessarily an imperfect enterprise. Some are products of the tea party movement; some have been adopted by it; others have sought tea party endorsement. But all these candidates likely would support the conservative tea party message of much greater restraint in government spending and cutbacks in Washington’s reach.