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.Play
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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.

The Tea Party in Colorado lifted another candidate to the forefront -- gubernatorial runner Dan Maes. The former businessman beat Rep. Scott McInnis, despite charges of plagiarism, fines for campaign finance violations and comments that he would fire thousands of state employees.

The Tea Party's support "was absolutely vital. There's no question," said Maes' communications director Nate Strauch. "When he got into it he was virtually unknown. ... They essentially put Dan on their backs and gave him that push and momentum that he needed to reach out to a broader group of voters."

Unlike the Republican Party, Tea Party supporters stringently require candidates to support the ideals of limited government, low taxes and personal responsibility, Strauch said.

"The fact that the Tea Party is requiring that of candidates whereas maybe the Republican establishment has overlooked some of that -- the fact that the Tea Party is requiring that the candidates meet those standards, stick to their guns, I think is a big boon in the general election," he said.

Tea Party Strength Tested in Primaries

Here is a look at some of the top Tea Party candidates and their prospects in the November midterms:

Rand Paul: His honeymoon period had barely begun when the libertarian-leaning GOP Senate candidate found himself caught in the middle of a slew of controversies. First, it was his statement to MSNBC's Rachel Maddow questioning whether the government could enforce anti-discrimination laws in restaurants. He later issued a statement saying he did not support repealing the Civil Rights Act.

Most recently, a woman alleging to be Paul's former swim teammate at Baylor University told GQ magazine that he and another student had essentially kidnapped her, tried to get her to smoke marijuana from a bong and, when she refused, took her to a creek, blindfolded her and told her to bow down and worship Aqua Buddha. The woman later told the Washington Post that she wasn't forced, but the two men, including Paul, were messing with her. Paul told Fox News he "never was involved with kidnapping, and "with forcibly drugging people."

Paul is so far in a neck-and-neck race with his Democratic opponent, Attorney General Jack Conway, according to the most recent polls. Polls showed Paul as having a slight edge over Conway in May, but since then, the margin between the two has narrowed.

Sharron Angle: When the Nevada assembly member was elected for the Republican Senate seat against Reid, Republicans feared her extreme views on subjects such as Social Security would alienate her from the state's voters. The position was a well sought out one, seen nationally by Republicans as a chance to unseat the Senate majority leader. Less than four months away from the elections, those fears are increasingly growing.

Angle has steered clear of the media, except for some conservative outlets. Reid's campaign has seized on comments she made saying that people would resort to "Second Amendment remedies." She also chimed in with another Tea Party proponent, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., that Congress approving state aid was a way to direct taxpayer money into Democrats' coffers.

While Reid has yet to gain a wide margin, most polls show him as having a slight advantage over Angle.

Mike Lee: Utah's GOP Senate candidate may have a smoother sailing in November compared to his counterparts, and he could be the Tea Party's biggest success story in November.

Sen. Bob Bennett, the conservative state's incumbent, was ousted, thanks in part to grassroots momentum from the Tea Party. But it was the national groups that helped fund Lee's campaign through the final days. Freedomworks PAC and the Tea Party Express poured money into the lawyer's campaign, and he also earned endorsements from Senate heavyweights such as Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C.