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Can the GOP and 'tea party' activists get along?

They've clashed in some places. But in Arkansas the old guard GOP and the tea party are united, so far, in a bid to oust Sen. Blanche Lincoln.

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“Lincoln is very vulnerable,” says Jennifer Duffy, a senior analyst at The Cook Political Report. “The left isn’t happy with her voting record because it isn’t progressive enough. The right doesn’t like it because she often votes with the Democratic majority after suggesting that she might not.”

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Though Arkansas voters went for Republican John McCain over Mr. Obama by 20 percentage points in 2008, they are not one-party loyalists. Democrats hold the statehouse and governorship. The congressional delegation consists of three Democrats and one Republican.

Many Arkansas Democrats now call themselves independents. That’s where Republicans see a way to defeat Lincoln.

“Arkansas’s electorate is changing,” says Kirsten Fedewa, a GOP consultant in Washington. “There are more people in Arkansas who view themselves as independents than as Democrats or Republicans.... This bloc of voters is very important this year.”

Democrats say, not so fast.

The influence of the tea partyers “in 2010 remains to be seen,” says Gabe Holmstrom, senior adviser to the Democratic Party of Arkansas.

Lincoln, in campaign mode in Arkansas during the congressional recess, stumped at numerous locales, including the Downtown Kiwanis Club of Little Rock. She worked the room, hugging and greeting friends. She defended her vote in favor of healthcare reform and focused on farming, an issue germane to her role as chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Still, Lincoln knows that she is under fire on many fronts, especially regarding national spending.

“As an original cofounder of the Blue Dog Coalition in the House of Representatives, Senator Lincoln has established a strong record as a fiscal conservative throughout her career in Congress,” says her campaign spokeswoman, Katie Laning Niebaum. “Her campaign will fight for every vote in every region of the state.”

No matter who wins the GOP primary for Senate in Arkansas in May, the tea party group will stay focused on principles, not party, predicts Mike Huckabee, former Arkansas governor and 2008 GOP presidential hopeful.

“The value of the tea party is that they are in this for the right reason,” says Mr. Huckabee. “They aren’t trying to be an ambassador or get on a board or commission. They are motivated to be involved in politics because they want their country back.... It’s America at its best.”

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The 'tea party' movement that burst upon the scene last year is destined to play a big role in this year's midterm elections. Whether it will help the Republican Party or hurt it by pulling the GOP far to the right is the big question.

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