ABC News’ Teddy Davis and Matt Loffman report:
The leadership of the Tea Party Express PAC came to the National Press Club on Thursday to herald its early successes and to unveil its expanded list of 2010 electoral targets.
"We have to expand our target list," said Sal Russo, a veteran Republican strategist who is advising the Tea Party Express. "They’re dropping like flies.”
The Tea Party Express PAC began with three targets: Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
“Since we announced that last year, Dodd has quit, Arlen Specter has changed parties and become a Democrat and tried to salvage his political career, and . . . Harry Reid is now trailing by 10 to 15 points against our little Republican candidates,” said Russo. “So . . . we expanded our target list after the vote on ObamaCare to include Bart Stupak — and he quit!”
Stupak maintains that his recent decision to retire at the end of the year was not motivated by Tea Party activists airing a television ad and holding rallies in his district. The Michigan Democrat says he was ready to move on to a new phase now that he had achieved comprehensive health-care reform.
The revised Tea Party Express PAC target list includes four sitting Democratic senators: Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas, Harry Reid of Nevada, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, and Barbara Boxer of California. It also includes nine sitting House Democrats: Betsy Markey (CO-04), Alan Grayson (FL-08), Baron Hill (IN-09), Barney Frank (MA-04), Dina Titus (NV-03), John Spratt (SC-05), Tom Perriello (VA-05), Gerry Connolly (VA-11), and Alan Mollohan (WVA-01).
In an effort to show that the Tea Party Express PAC is not a “tool” of the Republican Party, but instead is an independent political force, Russo announced that the PAC is getting behind one conservative Democrat who has opposed President Obama’s agenda: Rep. Walt Minnick (ID-01).
The decision to get behind Minnick is attention-grabbing because Republicans have fielded a strong candidate in that race: Iraq war vet Vaughn Ward, a Sarah Palin-endorsed candidate.
Beyond the targeted Democratic incumbents, the Tea Party Express PAC reiterated that it is getting behind six Republicans who currently find themselves in hotly contested Senate primaries.
Those six Republicans are: Chuck DeVore in California, Marco Rubio in Florida, Todd Tiahrt in Kansas, Rand Paul in Kentucky, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Sharron Angle in Nevada.
UPDATE: GOP Iraq vet Vaugh Ward responds to Tea Party snub:
Republican Iraq war vet Vaughn Ward is responding to the Tea Party Express PAC’s endorsement of Rep. Walt Minnick, D-Idaho, by reminding voters of the more liberal aspects of Minnick’s record.
“This endorsement does not change the fact that Walt Minnick’s first vote in Congress was for Nancy Pelosi and her liberal agenda of higher taxes, more spending, and a more intrusive federal government that has done nothing to get Idaho families back to work,” said Ward in a written statement provided to ABC News. “When Walt had the chance to step up to the plate for Idaho families, he voted against permanently ending the financial bailouts and voted for a permanent extension of the death tax. Walt Minnick and Nancy Pelosi’s tax and spend policies continue to cripple our economy. “