2012 Presidential Contenders Court Tea Party Activists

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"The way the first round of negotiations worked out doesn't help the Tea Party much," Harvard's Ansolabehere said. "They were able to make strong political gains in terms of holding out in what they believe in, but it also allowed the Republican leadership to make a deal with moderate Democrats.

"So the next couple of budget negotiations will probably see the same coalition of moderate Democrats, and even some liberal Democrats ... getting together with Republicans to make deals. So the real extreme anti-budget, anti-government rhetoric has to be downplayed."

A recent analysis by Ansolabehere and Harvard professor James M. Snyder Jr. found that the Tea Party's influence in the 2010 mid-term election might have been exaggerated, and the movement performed as well as other groups within the Republican party, including Christian conservatives.

"While the large number of victories for Tea Party-backed candidates suggests electoral appeal and political clout, it seems that a Tea Party endorsement actually didn't matter all that much," the report states. "In an election year that favored Republican politicians because of the prolonged economic recession and stubbornly high unemployment, Republican politicians did about as well as one would expect."

Public views of the Tea Party have gotten more negative, according to a poll released this month by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Of those polled, 29 percent said they disagreed with the Tea Party, nearly double the number at the same time last year, when more people agreed with the movement. A greater number of moderate Republicans disagree with the Tea Party today than a year ago, according to the survey.

Still, observers agree that the Tea Party, which has increasingly built more momentum and clout since it got off the ground two years ago, is expected to play a vital role in the upcoming election, although the degree to which it actually influences the outcome remains to be seen.

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