Tea Party insurgency marches into key states
But will Tea Party protest energy help or hobble the Republican Party? They're challenging some GOP candidates and could split the vote in those races.
Begun as a loosely affiliated groundswell of Constitution-waving protesters in tri-cornered hats, the Tea Party movement is now starting to rock the political establishment in key arenas.Skip to next paragraph
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The growing numbers of Americans coming out to the Tax Day Tea Party, the Fourth of July Tea Parties, and then the 9/12 Tea Party march on Washington are going back to their home districts and keeping up -- even intensifying -- the fight for smaller government and more transparency on spending and taxation.
In places like New York, Florida, California, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania, local, state, congressional, and gubernatorial seats are suddenly being tugged to-and-fro by the new and unruly political force.
The street energy is welcome for an otherwise moribund Republican party looking for new moorings amid a tumultuous electorate.
The downside is that early examples shows that, in the short run, Tea Party-sponsored candidates could make it more difficult for Republicans as they -- Ross Perot-like -- split races as they target both “tax and spend” Democrats and those they like to call RINOs, or “Republicans-in-name-only.”
“In the Republican primaries, especially, the Tea Party movement could be a very significant force” -- and not always in the Republicans' favor -- says Charles Franklin, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.
In New York’s 23rd congressional district, Democrats may ultimately thank Tea Party conservatives for backing businessman Doug Hoffman, a Conservative Party candidate, in a three-way congressional race in November -- the sole national race this year.
Mr. Hoffman’s supporters have pulled voters away from the Republican moderate, Dede Scozzafava, leaving the Democrat, Bill Hoffman, with the lead, according to polls. The “NY-23” battle, as it’s called, is already causing rifts in the Republican party, with Tea Party activists booing former House Speaker Newt Gingrich for backing Scozzafava.
In Florida, former Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio is courting Tea Party activists in a primary challenge to Gov. Charlie Crist, whom Tea Partiers see as a “Judas” for supporting the $787 billion stimulus package signed into law by President Obama in February.
In a perhaps unwelcome strike for Republicans near the President’s home turf, Tea Party activists have turned against the bid by Illinois Rep. Mark Kirk, a Republican, to seek Obama’s former Senate seat, citing Mr. Kirk’s support for a climate change bill.
Other Tea Party targets for scorn include Senate-seekers such as Republican up-and-comer Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, Rep. Mike Castle in Delaware, and former Rep. Rob Simmons in Connecticut. Tea Party activists also could play a role in Republican primary matchups in Texas (Rick Perry versus Kay Bailey Hutchinson) and in Pennsylvania (Pat Toomey versus Arlen Specter).