The leaders of national tea party groups, such as Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks, both of which endorsed Mourdock, believe a Lugar loss would immediately “send shock waves” across the country, to use Steinhauser’s words.
The Tea Party Express, which is focused this year on helping Republicans win back the Senate, has endorsed five Senate candidates in addition to Mourdock: Ted Cruz in Texas, Sarah Steelman in Missouri, Jon Bruning in Nebraska, Josh Mandel in Ohio and Tom Smith in Pennsylvania.
FreedomWorks shares some of the same targets, plus additional House and Senate candidates, including incumbents such as Rep. Steve King of Iowa—a tea party star.
“The movement has matured … and we’re now tea party 2.0,” Amy Kremer, chairwoman of Tea Party Express, told Yahoo News. Kremer and other tea party leaders say that while the tea party rose to fame in 2010, that cycle was just a learning period for the movement.
“In 2010, we didn’t have our feet under us,” Brendan Steinhauser, the federal and state campaigns director of FreedomWorks, told Yahoo News. Instead of a “haphazard” plan, as he described it, 2012 will bring a “much more sophisticated approach.”
The tea party in 2010 made headlines for its rallies, its anger and its energy. But its most lasting changes came in the form of getting tea party candidates elected to office, sometimes at the peril of establishment Republicans. The movement‘s leaders say they plan to do the same this cycle.
Two years ago, tea party supporters in Indiana split between two candidates in the state’s Senate Republican primary. In an example of how 2010 was a learning period for the movement, an umbrella organization called Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate was created to unify the tea party behind a single candidate.
“We were learning the process in 2010,” Monica Boyer, who helped found the group, told Yahoo News of the tea party in general. “We were angry about what was going on, but we didn’t know what to do about it.”
Even so, the Tea Party Express and select additional groups (but not all) plan to be involved in the presidential race even though Mitt Romney is not regarded as a tea party favorite.
“I will work my heart out,” for whomever wins the nomination, Kremer said. “We can’t afford another four more years of President Obama.”
Walker, who became a national target of the left last year when he took on public employee unions in his state, faces a recall primary May that he is expected to win handily. The real fight to hold his seat looms on June 5, when he faces a Democratic opponent.
With the effort, money and energy the movement has put into Walker’s recall, Mourdock’s primary and other local elections this year, the tea party has effectively turned these races into the determining factor of whether it will be viewed as a major force in politics after 2012.