Tea party shaping Republican Party, fall faceoffs

June 11, 2010 06:14

The tea party movement shows some growing pains, but it still wields remarkable powers to shape the Republican Party and set up a fall election with unconventional candidates and stark choices for voters.

By CHARLES BABINGTON at Townhall.com

In two high-profile primary elections Tuesday, establishment GOP candidates were stunned by come-from-behind winners backed by tea party activists and other conservatives who don’t necessarily associate with that loose-knit group.

National Republican leaders are sifting through the results. Voter fervor on the right delights them, but some fear their insurgent nominees might stray too far from the mainstream to win in November.

The party purity drive has a weaker grip on the Democratic Party, as centrist Sen. Blanche Lincoln illustrated when she held off a union-backed challenger in Arkansas.

In South Carolina’s Republican gubernatorial primary, state Rep. Nikki Haley trailed a congressman, the lieutenant governor and attorney general for months. But a tea party surge and Sarah Palin’s endorsement propelled her to an easy first-place finish. She faces Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff.

In Nevada, tea party favorite Sharron Angle overtook a better-known rival and won the right to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall. The outcome delighted Reid, who hopes to revive his re-election prospects by highlighting Angle’s unorthodox views, such as privatizing Social Security and eliminating the federal Energy and Education departments.

The tea party is not invincible, of course. Relatively mainstream Republican candidates won the Senate and gubernatorial nominations in California. And conservatives’ quarrels in a highly competitive House district in Virginia spelled doom for five candidates who claimed tea party ties.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found growing discontent with the tea party movement, with half of Americans saying they have an unfavorable impression of it.

But some conservatives see it as sign of maturity, with people paying more attention and recognizing the tea party’s clout.


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