The meteoric rise of the tea party -- and the limits of its power
After a year and a half of stirring America's political pot, the tea party and its followers on Election Day won about 35 percent of the seats they targeted. Going forward, the tea party may find its strength to be at the state and local level.
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Over the past year, polls have shown that about a third of Americans self-identify with the tea party. According to exit polls on Election Day, just over 4 in 10 voters said they at least somewhat support the tea party, with the remaining voters split between opposing the tea party and feeling neutral about it.Skip to next paragraph
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A USA Today/Gallup poll this week reported that Americans say the tea party has made politicians "more responsive to the views of ordinary citizens," but a majority also say, on the whole, that it has "created deeper political divisions" in the US.
The overall role of the tea party in the election results does not necessarily bode well for its future influence, according to some political experts. By raising high ideological expectations, the tea party has put a "political noose" around its own neck, Laurie Rhodebeck, a political scientist at the University of Louisville in Kentucky, said recently.
The defeat of tea party Senate candidates in Nevada, Delaware, and possibly Alaska "raises important questions about the whole Tea Party project," writes David Frum, George W. Bush's former speechwriter. "It also weakens the alternative power structure in the GOP ...."
Whether Election 2010 signifies a movement rising or a movement reaching its zenith will be a major question as the new, clearly more conservative, Congress gets down to business. Another big question mark: Can newly elected tea party ideologues such as Mr. Paul in the Senate stand up to entrenched Republican and Democratic powers to check spending and push for tax cuts?
Some are optimistic that the tea party can continue to have an effect. Both national parties are now on "high alert," says Adkerson.
Hardly deterred, those in the tea party are eyeing other big goals. With 25 state legislatures now under Republican control, and many other states holding large Republican minorities, the prospect of a "balanced budget" constitutional convention, which needs the approval of two-thirds of statehouses, just improved, tea party activists say. The repeal of health-care reform and the defeat of Mr. Obama in the next presidential election are other big prizes.
Also, tea party-fueled victories for Republicans in state and gubernatorial races could become crucial in upcoming congressional redistricting efforts in 15 states. That could help cement conservative rule for a decade.