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“What we are seeing is a maturation of our movement. When it has come to generating pressure on legislators to cut government or vote, the activists are fully engaged,” said media strategist Soren Dayton, who worked on the presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain. “A year or two ago, it was about getting the public aware of the issues. Now it is about making sure that the politicians that they helped elect make the right choices in office.”

Even if the tea party and its allies turn out to be less than what met the eye a year or so ago, the underlying force, like a subterranean river, is there.

“As in everything in the media about politics, the strength of the tea party was exaggerated in its rise. So later it looks like a fall — but it is only a more realistic assessment,” said Donald J. Devine, editor of Conservative Battleline. “The individual groups inevitably lose their initial enthusiasm, but the mass movement below it survives.”