They also know how to turn out a crowd. Gatherings across the country this year, including a mega-rally in Washington featuring Fox News host Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, drew thousands.
Though the Tea Party remains amorphous and its power in the legislative arena is largely untested, devotees will comprise a significant share of the incoming members of the House and Senate.
Economic Woes Continue
2010 continued to be a difficult year for struggling businesses, for the pocketbooks of average Americans and for more than 9 percent of Americans who are unemployed.
Uncertainty persisted across the country and voters registered their unease in November. According to national exit polls, more than two-thirds of Americans said the country was headed seriously off on the wrong track, while only 14 percent said their own family's financial situation had improved in the last two years compared to 41 percent who said they were worse off.
While the seeds of recovery appear to be taking root, it's been a slow process that has frustrated politicians from both parties, but none more so than Obama, who will ultimately bear the lion's share of responsibility for how Americans feel about their economic well being.
Witches and Demon Sheep Appear
Who would have thought that the release of a Web ad featuring a fake sheep with laser-red eyes and a Delaware Senate candidate's defense of her past statements about dabbling in witchcraft would be among the most enduring moments of the 2010 campaign. But this was no ordinary political year, and it was certainly one of the strangest for political ads.
The so-called "Demon Sheep" ad helped boost the primary campaign of California Senate candidate Carly Fiorina. The ad used a wolf-in-sheep's-clothing theme to portray Fiorina opponent Tom Campbell as a "fiscal conservative in name only."
Fiorina won her primary, but ended up losing the general election to incumbent Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Across the country in Delaware a little-known Senate contender, Christine O'Donnell, was making big waves not only with her campaign but with a remarkable ad in which she declared: "I am not a witch. I'm nothing you've heard. I'm you."
O'Donnell was responding to a previous acknowledgement of her experience with the dark arts. The ad came to define her campaign, which she ended up losing to Democrat Chris Coons.
Pelosi Gets Vilified
The midterm elections were not kind to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who found herself the target of attack ads, not only by Republicans, but also by some vulnerable members of her own party.
"Is our congressman a lap dog?" asked the narrator of an ad produced by the National Republican Congressional Committee in Kentucky. "Ben Chandler's not listening to Kentucky, but Chandler is listening to Nancy Pelosi. Ben Chandler votes with Pelosi's leadership 94 percent of the time."
"Isn't one Nancy Pelosi enough?" declared another NRCC ad hitting New Hampshire congressional candidate Annie Kuster.
Pelosi emerged as a convenient and effective target and it turns out that more money was spent on commercials that included attacks on her than against any other congressional leader since Newt Gingrich, according to the Campaign Media Analysis Group, which tracks ad spending.
Democrats Get Shellacked