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Tea Party Express Turns Eyes to Senate

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Sen. Dick Lugar has been named a target of the Tea Party Express group. Without a presidential candidate to throw its weight behind, the group is focusing on winning the Senate majority.

For the Tea Party Express, next year’s election is all about the Senate.

With no consensus tea party presidential candidate in sight, the group plans to kick off the new year with a stream of endorsements in Senatorial races, Chairwoman Amy Kremer told Roll Call Friday.

In September, the group co-sponsored a Republican presidential debate with CNN and its leaders expected to anoint one of the nominees as the candidate of the tea party shortly thereafter. But no single candidate managed to capture the imagination of grass-roots conservatives.

“Truthfully I would have thought that the movement would have coalesced around somebody by this point and it hasn’t,” Kremer said in an interview. “It has caused a lot of frustration for a lot of people.”

Even as presidential candidates tout their tea party credentials and angle for the group’s endorsement — all of the nominees have reached out to the Tea Party Express except Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) — Kremer said her group will focus on winning a Republican majority in the Senate instead.

“We need to take back the Senate regardless of what happens in presidential politics, whether Barack Obama wins reelection or is defeated,” Kremer said. “We need to control the Senate, because [Majority Leader] Harry Reid is the road block. ... He’s not doing the business of the American people.”

The political action committee played a key role in the 2010 midterm elections spending $7.7 million to propel untried, conservative candidates, including Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, Sharron Angle in Nevada and Joe Miller in Alaska, to upset primary victories over more moderate Republicans. But none of them made it to Washington. Kremer said next year the group would try to ensure that it invests in candidates who are capable of progressing without outside support.

Tea Party Express has already endorsed Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Indiana State Treasure Richard Mourdock, and plans to announce its next series of endorsements in mid-January. Its website names Sens. Olympia Snowe (R – Maine), Ben Nelson (D – Neb.), Dick Lugar (R – Ind.) and Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) as targets.

It remains to be seen how powerful tea-party energy will be three years after the movement emerged. The rallies that initially defined the movement have morphed into behind-the-scenes activism, Kremer noted, and the movement’s might has been countered, at least in part, by the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Kremer said on Friday that contributions to the Tea Party Express have declined and the group has all but gone dark since the conclusion of a national bus tour in early September. The PAC raised $1.4 million from January to July, the most recent figures publicly available.

“Presidential politics is completely different than a midterm election, so we just have to figure out where we fit in,” she said. “Before you figure that out, you have to have a candidate and we don’t.”

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