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Democrats Try to Tie Republicans to Tea Party

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Orrin Hatch said he doesn’t believe the tea party movement will hurt Republicans this cycle. The Utah Republican said he will “stand up for the tea party every time.”

The White House and Congressional Democrats have begun stepping up attacks on “extremist” tea party views that they say are infecting the Republican Party, but they are wary of going too far and alienating the most enthusiastic group of voters this cycle.

The Democrats’ strategy is nuanced: Rather than invest in expensive television ads, party leaders have been weaving the connection into their talking points. The move comes after two tea party candidates won Senate Republican nominations in this month’s primaries — Christine O’Donnell of Delaware and Joe Miller of Alaska. Both candidates beat more mainstream Republicans who were expected to win handily.

But Democrats say they don’t have to do much to convince the public that there is a link between the GOP and the tea party. Candidates with the movement’s backing are running as conservative, independent-minded Republicans.

“To be honest, I don’t think we have to try too hard to link them because they are linked. In people’s minds, they understand that the tea party is really a core component of the Republican Party,” Sen. Mary Landrieu said.

The Louisiana Democrat pointed to “a real battle being waged right now” in the Republican ranks over whether to embrace conservative but pragmatic views or to take a more “extremist” tack. She called it “amusing” to see Republicans struggling for a clear identity in recent weeks because “it’s normally the Democrats that are disorganized.”

Sen. Mark Begich agreed that the GOP is already linked to the tea party in the public’s eye.

“I just know that in Alaska we have a tea party guy who’s the Republican nominee. So, it is what it is,” the Democrat said.

Senior Democratic aides emphasized that their strategy for dealing with the tea party must be subtle, and they have denied a New York Times piece over the weekend that suggested the White House was mulling a national ad campaign that would frame the Republican Party as taken over by its radical tea party fringe. Still, Democrats aren’t denying that they are trying to make people aware of the link.

“It is a real and obvious connection that we think will turn independent voters away from the GOP,” one senior House Democratic aide said.

Vice President Joseph Biden said the alternative to Democratic control of Congress is “the Republican tea party” during a Monday fundraiser for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland (D). And on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) noted that the public is “becoming more and more aware of the radical policies being proposed by some Republican nominees” during a sit-down with reporters.

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