Tea Party Sets Its Sights on the Senate

The House last year became the spiritual home of the Tea Party, which helped elect dozens in the 2010 Republican landslide. Success in the Senate was limited.

In 2013, the Senate may become the Tea Party's cathedral.

This year, Tea Party activists are winning Republican Senate primaries and are favored to win seats in the fall. They include Ted Cruz in Texas, Deb Fischer in Nebraska and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Primaries over the next 10 days in Missouri and Wisconsin could catapult others.

Cruz, a former law clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist, handily defeated the Texas lieutenant governor last week. He's considered a virtual shoo-in in the general election.

Fischer, who won an upset victory against a more established candidate, has been embraced by the Tea Party, as has Mourdock who knocked off six-term Republican Senator Richard Lugar in Indiana. Facing tough Democratic opponents, they are favored in states that are decidedly Republican.

They all are hard-line conservatives. Take Mourdock: He has proposed spending cuts of $7.6 trillion over a decade, or more than double the amount recommended by the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. As for bipartisanship, he says, "The problem is that we try to work together too much rather than stand for our convictions."

If all these Tea Party-backed Republicans win in November, it means Mitch McConnell, the current Republican Senate leader, will be in the majority. From day one, however, the Kentucky senator will be looking over his shoulder. The real power may be South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, who stood up and supported a number of these Tea Party candidates in the 2010 elections.

Another politician who benefits: Sarah Palin. The former Alaska governor endorsed Mourdock, Fischer and Cruz when they were underdogs.

(Albert R. Hunt is Washington editor at Bloomberg News and a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him on Twitter.)

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