Sarah Palin kick-starts final Tea Party Express bus tour of 2010

Tea Party Express launches its last tour of the 2010 campaign in (guess where) Sen. Harry Reid's home state of Nevada with an event headlined by (guess who) Sarah Palin.

Jae C. Hong/AP
Sarah Palin speaks during a rally in Anaheim, Calif., on Oct. 16.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the Tea Party Express is kicking off its fourth – and final – bus tour Monday in Nevada, home of perhaps its biggest target, favorite candidate, and a race that has been neck-and-neck for weeks.

Or that it’s launching its tour, as it has in the past, with an appearance by Sarah Palin.

Ms. Palin is headlining the event in Reno, Nev. Monday morning, just as she did at the opening event of the Tea Party Express’s last bus tour, which began this past March in Searchlight, Nev., hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

IN PICTURES: Sarah Palin's fashion

The new tour will then make three more stops over two days in Nevada to lend its support to Senator Reid’s opponent, Republican Sharron Angle, who largely owes her primary victory to the group.

The tour will continue with a packed schedule over the next two weeks that will make 30 stops in 19 states and include a majority of the most closely watched races and favorite “tea party”-backed candidates.

Arkansas? Check.

Pennsylvania? Check.

Kentucky? Check.

Delaware? The Express will show up to support tea party favorite (and long-shot candidate) Christine O’Donnell on Halloween. (Given the controversy over Ms. O’Donnell’s long-past dalliance in witchcraft, the timing is a gift to comedy-show writers.)

Of the states with the closest Senate races – Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Washington, Wisconsin, and West Virginia – the tour will visit all but four, opting out of Alaska, Colorado (a surprise, due to the closeness of the race), Wisconsin, and Washington.

It will also lend support to numerous House and gubernatorial candidates in close races, and will show up to support some candidates – like Delaware’s O’Donnell and Arkansas’s John Boozman – even in races where the outcome is all but guaranteed.

The Southeast, including Florida, gets largely ignored, as does the Rocky Mountain West. The Southwest, Midwest, and Northeast are the big targets here – hardly surprising, given where the closest races are.

What’s the impact likely to be?

The Tea Party Express – still the most well known faction of the unofficial tea party movement, despite some controversies and dissent between it and other tea party groups – got its start with these high-profile tours, launching the first one in August of 2009.

It’s gone on to have major influence largely due to its spending. In this election cycle, the Tea Party Express PAC has raised more than $6 million, and big last-minute media blitzes were largely responsible for the primary victories of long-shot candidates like O’Donnell, Ms. Angle, Alaska's Joe Miller, and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

But this tour will get back to the roots of the movement, and will test how well it can affect voter turnout – and election results – in a general election, as opposed to a primary, when it was able to have a big impact in part due to the smaller, more partisan group of voters.

Expect big names and a lot of media coverage – and, if you’re really interested, the group will be streaming its events online at its website.

IN PICTURES: Sarah Palin's fashion

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