Tea Party Remains Potent But Future Uncertain

At a recent conference marking the Tea Party’s fifth anniversary, Republican Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota paid tribute to the grassroots activists who have been a fixture on the U.S. political scene since 2009.

“Because what you did for America is stellar, it was life-changing to the lifeblood of this nation," she said.

The Tea Party’s greatest victory came in the 2010 midterm congressional elections when their supporters helped Republicans take back control of the House of Representatives.

The Tea Party is not a political party but a wide array of grass roots groups, some aided by powerful fundraising organizations.  But its supporters now dream of one of their own in the White House someday, and at the top of the list for many is Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who was elected with Tea Party help in 2012.

But the Tea Party took a political hit last October in the aftermath of the federal government shutdown.  The public blamed Republicans more than Democrats for the stalemate, and many Republican leaders criticized Tea Party groups for a "no compromise" attitude that provoked the shutdown.

2014 looms as a pivotal year for the Tea Party.  Supporters are critical to a strong Republican showing in this November's Congressional election, when the party hopes to hold its majority in the House and gain enough seats to take control of the Senate as well.

Analysts say far-right Republican Senate candidates nominated with Tea Party support wound up hurting Republican hopes for a Senate takeover in both 2010 and 2012.

Republican strategist Ford O’Connell says party leaders are hoping to avoid that problem this year.

“And the biggest hurdle in front of the Tea Party right now is that they are seen as extremist, and that is exactly how Democrats can continue to defeat Tea Party candidates, because the public perception of the Tea Party is generally seen as a negative thing by the American people,” he said. 

Read more from Jim Malone at Voice of America

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Analysis & Political Strategy