Tea Party Power: Who's Next After Bennett?

Fresh from its Utah victory, the Tea Party looks to other Republican incumbents.

ByABC News
May 9, 2010, 5:12 PM

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2010— -- The Tea Party movement has many more incumbent Republicans in its sights this midterm election year after tossing out an incumbent conservative GOP senator in Utah.

In its first real show of political force, the Tea Party movement unseated three-term Sen. Bob Bennett in the state's Republican primary race Saturday.

"It's the beginning of a trend," journalist Robin Wright said Sunday on ABC News' "This Week."

Bennett's loss to two Tea Party candidates, former assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Lee and businessman Tim Bridgewater, sends a warning signal to other GOP incumbents in a year when an anti-Washington, pro-fiscally conservative current is running strong among Republicans.

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"You have the next coming up, Kentucky and Arizona and New Hampshire. We're likely to see this elsewhere," Wright said. "Democracy's about the majority, but it's about the majority of people who participate. And, in this case, a certain kind of people participated, and their candidate won."

The Tea Party's next big political fight will take place May 18 in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary. Although Secretary of State Trey Grayson has the support of the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican state establishment, he is running against Tea Party favorite Rand Paul, the son of former presidential candidate Ron Paul of Texas. Paul is also supported by Sarah Palin and evangelical leader James Dobson.

Although Bennett blamed the "toxic" political environment, even he conceded that his Senate votes may have been a problem. His votes for health care overhaul and the Trouble Asset Relief Program, painted by critics as the "Wall Street bailout," enraged members of the Tea Party movement, who hope to purge incumbents of questionable conservative purity.

"The political atmosphere obviously has been toxic and it's very clear that some of the votes that I have cast have added to the toxic environment," Bennett said Saturday in his concession speech.

Although their support for the GOP-backed fiscal conservative Marco Rubio may have caused Florida Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to run as an independent in the upcoming senate race there, Utah was Tea Party supporters' first breakthrough victory.

John Avlon, co-author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America," said on ABC, "This is a marker in the evolution of the Tea Party movement into becoming a real political force."