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Election 2010 all about tea party? It's more: It's year of the outsider.

The tea party has energized Republicans, even if it also complicates life for the GOP after Nov. 2. But the movement is actually part of a larger Election 2010 trend -- one that features the most diverse GOP field in history.

By Staff writer / October 28, 2010

Mary Syron rallies with other tea party supporters during a ‘Gateway to November’ gathering in St. Louis.

Whitney Curtis/AP

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Coral Gables, Fla.

Rick Scott hardly seems the slick, glad-handing politician that voters are used to. He speaks softly, almost mumbling, as he lays out his plan for taxes and insurance at a recent town-hall meeting at the swanky Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Fla. Mr. Scott, a former health-care chief executive, is new to politics. He is very rich and very conservative – tea party conservative. And he may be the next governor of Florida.

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Most surprising to longtime observers of Florida politics is that Scott seemed to appear out of nowhere. The state has its share of wealthy businessmen, but Scott was not part of that social milieu. "It's almost like he landed from Mars with all this money. Next thing you know, he wins the Republican primary," says Brad Coker, president of Mason Dixon polling, who is based in Jacksonville, Fla.

The 2010 election cycle will be most remembered for the birth and rapid rise of the low-tax, limited-government tea party movement, which has energized frustrated conservatives nationwide heading into the Nov. 2 midterms, mostly to the Republican Party's benefit. But the tea party is actually part of the larger trend of this election: the rise of the outsider.

VIDEO: Voices of the tea party

Wealthy businesspeople, women, minorities, and first-time candidates have all grabbed Republican nominations this cycle to a noteworthy degree. Some were recruited to run by the party, others ran in defiance of the GOP establishment. The net result is the most diverse field of candidates Republicans have ever seen.

"Part of it was a concerted outreach on the part of party leaders to get a diverse range of candidates, which was a very smart thing," says Republican pollster Whit Ayres. "Part of it was the obvious political opportunity that savvy candidates saw in this year."

In addition to Scott in Florida, wealthy Republicans with open checkbooks – most of whom have never run for office before – are competing for the governorships of California and Michigan and for the Senate in California, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and West Virginia. Self-funding by no means guarantees election; first-timers can be prone to rookie mistakes. Lavish spending out of one's personal fortune can also seem off-key at a time of financial hardship for many voters. But wealthy candidates argue that they can't be bought by special interests.

Republican women have also burst onto the scene this cycle. Call it the "Palin effect" – a wave of conservative women inspired by the 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee's sudden stardom. A record number of women, 298, filed to run for the House and Senate, and for the first time, the Republicans nearly matched the Democrats in numbers. Still, many lost their primaries, and so an anticipated "Year of the Republican Woman" hasn't quite materialized.