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Tea Party Tally

Rand Paul's big Senate test: Can tea party compromise?

Will Rand Paul's promised tea party caucus in the Senate be able to stop government spending or be forced (gasp) to compromise on the shape of 'constitutional government'?

By Staff writer / November 3, 2010

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Rand Paul and his wife Kelley wave to supporters as they arrive for his victory celebration in Bowling Green, Ky., Tuesday. After the tea party's big win, will they have to learn to compromise in the Senate?

Ed Reinke/AP

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Atlanta

Rand Paul's victory in the Kentucky race gives perhaps the tea party's most ardent booster a seat in the Senate. He is joined by Florida's Marco Rubio and a wave of Republicans swept into the House on tea party momentum.

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It gives the tea party its first real opportunity to grab the levers of power. It could also jam the congressional works worse than ever.

Mr. Paul, whose at-times controversial comments didn't prevent him from cruising to what looks like a comfortable win over Democrat Jack Conway, vowed in his victory speech to establish a tea party caucus in the Senate (the House already has one) and "send a message" to what he called "the world's most deliberative body."

But converting the tea party's newfound populist power into actual governing will be a tough task, especially in the august, complicated, and sometimes dysfunctional machinery of the US Senate.

How tea partyers such as Mr. Paul, Mr. Rubio, Dan Coats in Indiana, and John Boozman in Arkansas will react when they begin deliberations on cutting deficit spending, for example, is a major question, political scientists say. It will test the breadth of the tea party's message and even its relevance to the 2012 presidential election.

"There's a huge question of what governing looks like if tea party folks get elected to the Senate, where each individual can tie the Senate into knots by themselves," Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, told the Monitor before Election Day. "It's hard to see how Congress adopts a governing program that would satisfy most of the people in the tea party movement."

Even as Paul promised to ask the Senate to deliberate on stopping deficit spending, Sen. Jim DeMint, who won reelection as a tea party favorite in South Carolina, struck a more cautious note. While saying he would join Rand's proposed tea party caucus, DeMint added that, "I don't want to spend the next six years saying no."

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