Will Tea Party Label Hurt in Midterm Elections?

The Tea Party secured yet additional victories in Tuesday's primaries, but even as the movement's grassroots momentum grows, there's growing concern over whether the affiliation will have an adverse effect on candidates in the November elections.

From Kentucky to Nevada, Democrats have already seized on the Tea Party connection. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Tea Party-backed winner for the Republican Senate seat in Colorado Ken Buck an "extremist candidate who joins the ranks of Sharron Angle, Rand Paul and Ron Johnson, all of whom are more concerned with imposing a social doctrine than with growing the economy."

Video: Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., creates Tea Party caucus.
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Angle, Nevada's GOP Senate candidate who is challenging Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, has been scrutinized for her views on Social Security and Medicare, remedying the Second Amendment and for saying that state aid money recently approved by Congress is "a way to solidify the [Democratic] base, if you will, with our taxpayer dollars."

In Kentucky, Paul's comments on the Civil Rights Act and libertarian ideology has provided much fodder for Democrats.

Many Republican leaders have downplayed their association with the Tea Party, most notably Scott Brown, R-Mass., who was propelled to his surprise victory in part by the grassroots work of the movement. The Tea Party has since denounced him for his vote on financial reform. Some Florida Tea Party groups have also charged Marco Rubio, Florida's Republican Senate candidate, with abandoning the movement.

The Tea Party itself lacks a unified voice and remains fragmented, as was demonstrated last month when the NAACP denounced what it called racist elements within the movement.

But Republicans say Democrats are only hurting themselves by attacking the Tea Party.

"I think politically the Democrats are making a huge mistake by marginalizing the Tea Party movement," said Brian Walsh, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, adding that he doesn't see the movement as a liability in November.

As for the differences that Tea Party supporters may have with the Republican establishment, Walsh argued that those kinds of debates occur within both parties.

Candidates who closely aligned themselves with the Tea Party dismissed any claims that the association would hurt them.

For Buck, it was "a very positive label," said his campaign consultant Walt Klein. "One of the things it meant to voters here in Colorado is that you're not part of the establishment."

According to his campaign's internal polling, Buck said, 83 to 85 percent of Republican voters said they identified with the Tea Party movement, a hefty number for a state in which the GOP is still attempting to unify itself.

An ABC News/Washington Post poll released in May found that 27 percent of Americans supported the Tea Party, including 17 percent who said they backed it "strongly" and 2 percent who said they were active participants.

Buck beat the establishment favorite, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, but the bitter campaign was filled with controversial moments -- especially one in which Buck was blasted as sexist for saying people should vote for him because "I do not wear high heels." Some Republicans fear such gaffes could come back to bite Buck in the general election.

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