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.
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"They probably were doing what I was doing, which was being angry and frustrated and holding my nose and voting for the [Republican] party," says Ms. Leone, who owns a small marketing business and helped start a local tea party group early last year. "We don't do that anymore, because we know that our country's at stake."Skip to next paragraph
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In other words, no more sitting idly by and voting for whomever the party puts up. Thus was born the Marco Rubio phenomenon – the young, charismatic conservative who, with tea party support, effectively forced the moderate Gov. Charlie Crist out of the GOP Senate primary, and is now well positioned to become Florida's junior senator.
Leone still fears the country is being taken over from within, by Mr. Obama's top aides and by the appointed "czars" who advise him on key issues. But she has faith in the founding principles of this nation, as enshrined in the Constitution.
"People are disillusioned on both sides – either because [Obama] is too liberal or because he hasn't done enough for them," she says. "It's a very strange time in America, but I'm full of hope."
Beyond Nov. 2, the Republicans could face big challenges. Polls indicate the two parties are equally unpopular, suggesting that voters are not embracing Republicans as much as they are rejecting Democrats. "The American people see a Congress and Senate and White House all controlled by one party, but they don't see a brake pedal on this car," says Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. Come January, Obama will still be president, so "the only question is whether there will be a brake on the car."
The comparisons to the 1994 midterms are obvious. A new Democratic president is blamed for overreaching – with Bill Clinton, it was tax increases and crime legislation – and voters take it out on the congressional Democrats, wiping out the majorities in both houses. In 2010, Democratic strategists thought the passage of health-care reform would be a boon going into the midterms, as it showed their party capable of enacting a major reform on an issue that voters cared about. President Clinton had failed to pass health reform, and lacked a signature accomplishment after two years in office.
As it has turned out, Obama's success in passing the big, complicated reform presented Republicans with a juicy target. The White House has been ineffective in selling the program to the public – both the conservatives who feel it overreaches and liberals who wish it went further – and few endangered Democrats are embracing it. Legal challenges to its constitutionality have fueled the controversy. And with jobs and the economy as Issue No. 1, voters blame Democrats for misplaced priorities.
In one way, Republicans need to worry about the comparison with 1994. Back then, only 39 percent of the public viewed the GOP unfavorably. By February of this year, that number was 57 percent, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.