- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 23, 2011

The tea party movement that helped elect dozens of fiscal conservatives in 2010 to give Republicans control of the House is already mobilizing and recruiting candidates in a bid to take over the Senate next year as well.

With the 2012 electoral cycle just getting started, hopefuls backed by the tea party from Indiana and Texas to Virginia and Maine are testing the waters, targeting both vulnerable Democrats and incumbent Republicans seen as insufficiently willing to embrace the group’s strong anti-spending, anti-debt agenda.

In Indiana over the weekend, some 70 state tea party organizations met to unify under the coalition Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate and discuss a primary challenge to longtime moderate GOPSen. Richard G. Lugar.

“We’re not happy with Sen. Lugar’s progressive, liberal stance that has worsened over the years,” said Monica Boyer, president of the Kosciusko County-based tea party group Silent No More.

Indiana conservatives are particularly upset with Mr. Lugar, a six-term incumbent, over his votes for Obama-backed initiatives such as the START missile treaty with Russia and Dream Act legislation easing rules for some illegal immigrants. Despite the string of tea party primary challenges to moderate Republicans in the 2010 midterms, Mr. Lugar has made it clear in recent days that he will be running again.

"We're not happy with Sen. Lugar's progressive, liberal stance that has worsened over the years," says Monica Boyer, president of the Kosciusko County, Ind.-based tea party group Silent No More. (Associated Press)
“We’re not happy with Sen. Lugar’s progressive, liberal stance that has worsened ... more >

“This is why we have taken a very early campaign stance of vigorous fundraising, vigorous campaigning, anticipating that that kind of a campaign might occur,” he told Bloomberg TV’s “Political Capital” show.

Political analysts say the tea party movement proved a mixed blessing for Republicans in 2010, providing much of the passion and ground support for GOP gains in Congress and the states.

Tea party-blessed candidates, including Kentucky’s Rand Paul, Florida’s Marco Rubio, Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and Utah’s Mike Lee, all won their Senate races. But many say the weakness and inexperience of other tea party favorites, notably Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware, cost the Republicans an even bigger victory.

Ms. Boyer describes traveling to Capitol Hill last month to accept an invitation to meet with the 78-year-old Mr. Lugar to discuss his policies.

“I went down there in a snowstorm,” she recalled. “He explained why he voted like he did and said he would do it all again. No connection. It ended like the start of some football match, when you shake hands and say, ‘Game on.’”

Ms. Boyer said coalition members already are eyeing two potential candidates, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock and state Sen. Mike Delph.

Sal Russo, a GOP strategist and the force behind the California-based Tea Party Express, said Thursday his group was “very happy with the 2010 results,” but acknowledged having learned a few lessons to take into next year.

“We got into some races late,” said Mr. Russo, whose group provided late aid to Ms. O'Donnell to help her upset establishment-backed GOP Rep. Michael N. Castle in Delaware’s Republican primary. She then lost in the general election to Democrat Chris Coons.

Mr. Russo said that the group’s tax status prevented members from communicating with candidates. In the 2012 cycle, he added, tea party officials will “spend more time with candidates, getting to know them.”

But he added his group had no regrets about the 2010 candidates it backed and that he has already talked to candidates in five states in what he called “a target-rich environment” for Republicans.

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