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Will 'tea party' backing for third-party candidates boost House Dems?

Third-party candidates with 'tea party' support stand to siphon votes from Republicans in as many as 20 House races.

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It has also helped that Hurt met with Mr. McKelvey and like-minded activists after the primary, committing to a 12-point plan that includes voting down any tax increase, balancing the federal budget, auditing the Federal Reserve, protecting the unborn from the moment of conception, and cutting or defunding agencies that have no constitutional basis.

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"That made everybody feel a lot better about him," said Gary Lowe, treasurer and former chairman of the Greene County Republicans. "People are tired of politics as usual. That's what we're about – true conservatism." Republicans displayed a 4-by-8-foot placard at a local fair that showed Hurt had signed all 12 items.

But there's still a conservative rival on the ballot: independent tea partyer Jeffrey Clark, who says he's getting pressure both from Republicans and tea party groups to exit the race so as not to split the conservative vote. "Some tea parties have become the strong arm of the Republican Party," said Mr. Clark, a property inspector from Danville, Va. "We get a lot of e-mails asking us to drop out, but they all start out the same way: 'We agree with what you stand for, but we don't want to risk [reelecting] Perriello.' "

Clark has barely financed his campaign and is polling at two to four percentage points. But the Perriello-Hurt race is tight: a one-point margin, according to a recent poll, so even a small score for Clark could help the Democrat. Mr. Perriello won in 2008 by 727 votes.

Third-party 'fakes'?

If a third-party candidate might tip the balance in a close election, what's to stop backers of a major-party candidate from ginning one up, in the hope of siphoning off the opposing candidate's votes? Such are the charges in a few races this election cycle, when the tea party brand alone may attract voters who don't look too closely at a specific candidate.

In New Jersey's Third Congressional District, freshman Rep. John Adler (D) is neck and neck with ex-Philadelphia Eagles lineman Jon Runyan (R), 41 percent to 39 percent, respectively, according to a recent Rutgers Eagleton poll. But a self-described tea party candidate who has barely campaigned, Peter DeStefano, is polling at 6 percent among likely voters – enough to tip the race to the Democrat. Republicans and other tea partyers say his campaign is a fake, financed and directed by aides and supporters of Mr. Adler. “As far as I know, we have nothing to do with it," Adler said in a debate on Monday. On Tuesday, the New Jersey Republican State Committee called on the Federal Election Commission to investigate.

"My reason for getting involved is I'm fed up," Mr. DeStefano said in a phone interview, noting he lost his home and picture-framing business during the recession. Responding to allegations that he's a plant, he says: "I'm on the ballot. I'm a lawful candidate. I have every right to pick whatever [party] name I want." He declined to say how he collected signatures to get on the ballot or is financing his campaign: "I'm not going to address that."

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