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Tea party shaping Republican Party, fall faceoffs


The tea party movement shows some growing pains, but it still wields remarkable powers to shape the Republican Party and set up a fall election with unconventional candidates and stark choices for voters.

In two high-profile primary elections Tuesday, establishment GOP candidates were stunned by come-from-behind winners backed by tea party activists and other conservatives who don't necessarily associate with that loose-knit group.

National Republican leaders are sifting through the results.

Voter fervor on the right delights them, but some fear their insurgent nominees might stray too far from the mainstream to win in November.

The party purity drive has a weaker grip on the Democratic Party, as centrist Sen. Blanche Lincoln illustrated when she held off a union-backed challenger in Arkansas.

I n S o u t h C a r o l i n a ' s Republican gubernatorial primary, state Rep. Nikki Haley trailed a congressman, the lieutenant governor and attorney general for months. But a tea party surge and Sarah Palin's endorsement propelled her to an easy first-place finish. She faces Rep. Gresham Barrett in a June 22 runoff.

In Nevada, tea party favorite Sharron Angle overtook a better- known rival and won the right to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in the fall. The outcome delighted Reid, who hopes to revive his re-election prospects by highlighting Angle's unorthodox views, such as privatizing Social Security and eliminating the federal Energy and Education departments.

The tea party is not invincible, of course. Relatively mainstream Republican candidates won the Senate and gubernatorial nominations in California.

And conservatives' quarrels in a highly competitive House district in Virginia spelled doom for five candidates who claimed tea party ties.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found growing discontent with the tea party movement, with half of Americans saying they have an unfavorable impression of it.

But some conservatives see it as sign of maturity, with people paying more attention and recognizing the tea party's clout.

In South Carolina, Barrett, a four-term congressman, and two other GOP gubernatorial hopefuls were better known than Haley. In the primary's closing days, "the big difference was the tea party, the grass roots, the awakening you see across the country gravitated towards Nikki Haley," said Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a tea party champion.

"That was pretty stunning."

The movement had another victory on Tuesday. In Maine, a tea party favorite, Waterville Mayor Paul LePage, won the GOP nomination for governor.

These events follow the stunning rejection of three-term Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah in a GOP convention, libertarianconservative Rand Paul's victory over a Republican establishment favorite in Kentucky's Senate primary and Gov. Charlie Crist's forced withdrawal from Florida's GOP Senate primary.


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