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In an e-mail to the Sun, Mr. Ashjian said, “I am not for Harry Reid. I have never been supportive of Harry Reid. My candidacy is real, the Tea Party is real, and we are not going away.”

Critics note that Mr. Levinson, known for defending oft-arrested porn star John Wayne Bobbitt, doesn’t fit the profile of a typical tea partier. He was an Obama supporter during the 2008 election and affiliated with the “Bush lied, people died” protest, although his blog indicates he has become disenchanted with the president.

The secretary of state’s election rolls list Barry Levinson of Las Vegas as a Democrat, although it may not be the same Barry Levinson.

The party’s constitution calls for “freedom, liberty and a small representative government,” principles that any tea partier would be proud to support. But those involved with the tea parties say that forming a third party isn’t part of the movement’s playbook.

“The tea party isn’t about becoming a third party. We’re vehemently against establishing a third party. They have a history of defeat,” said Shelby Blakely, a leader of the Tea Party Patriots, which bills itself as the nation’s largest tea party movement umbrella group.

In Nevada, the strategy for the past year has been to inundate the county GOP chapters with tea party activists, who in turn will support candidates who back the movement’s small-government agenda. Mr. Ricotta, for example, was a registered independent until a year ago, when he changed his affiliation to Republican. In July, he was elected a Clark County Republican Party officer, and now he is the interim vice chairman.

“Most tea partiers are focused on precinct elections and changing their registration so they can vote for the conservative candidate,” Mr. Ricotta said.

“We see this as a two-party system and we’re trying to work through the Republican Party.”

The Tea Party of Nevada may reveal more of its hand March 1, the first day that candidates can file to run for Senate. At the very least, the party’s officers have some explaining to do.

“We’ve got questions and we want to talk to them,” said Mr. Ricotta. “‘I don’t understand. You’ve formed a new party. What’s your platform?’ Who knows, perhaps these people don’t have these nefarious intentions.”