Whether you love them or hate them, it’s impossible to deny that the Tea Party is on the verge of becoming a major political force in the U.S.
This year, candidates backed by the Tea Party have beaten more mainstream politicians in primaries all across the country. In Alaska’s Senate primary last month, Tea Party favorite Joe Miller defeated Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the incumbent, for the Republican nomination. In Delaware, Tea Party-backed candidate Christine O’Donnell surprised many by winning the Republican nomination to fill the Senate seat previously held by Joe Biden. And earlier this year, Rand Paul defeated Republican establishment candidate Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Senate primary, declaring his victory as a “tremendous mandate for the Tea Party.”
Now, with mid-term elections less than a month away, the question is whether Tea Party candidates will have the support to win congressional seats. Recent polls have shown that Tea Party-backed candidates are ahead right now in states like Colorado, and running neck and neck in Nevada. In fact, an analysis from the New York Times shows that of the 138 Tea Party candidates running for office, 33 have a decent chance at winning seats in the House of Representatives and 8 have a good shot at winning Senate seats.
Still, part of the struggle that these candidates face is to better define what they stand for and identify specific policies.
Shortly after the Tea Party movement began in February 2009, one Fox News poll found that 80% of Americans believed the Tea Party’s ideas were a “fruitless mix of racism [and] conspiracy theories.” Opinions have become more favorable since then but a USA Today poll from the summer found that many of those who identify with the movement don’t know exactly what it stands for. And last month, one poll from The New York Times and CBS found that nearly half of all voters are undecided on the Tea Party movement or feel they don’t know enough about it to make a judgment.
Members of the Tea Party explain this in part by noting that it’s a movement and not an official political party, with a long list of party policies.
“The Tea Party is a state of mind,” said Michael Patrick Leahy, co-founder of the National Tea Party Coalition and an influential voice in the movement. As a result, people who subscribe to the movement and candidates who are backed by it may have some varying beliefs, but according to Leahy, it all boils down to three major tenets. “We are committed to three core values: a constitutionally limited government, fiscal responsibility and free markets.”
Of course, those values are quite broadly defined, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that voters around the country would want to learn more about the actual policies behind them before casting their ballots.
MainStreet spoke with several Tea Party candidates running in Senate and House races, as well as other influential voices within the Tea Party in order to get a sense of what specific policies they have for creating jobs, helping small businesses and consumers, and strengthening the economy after the Great Recession. We also touched on some of the policies they disagreed with from the current administration, including the stimulus, bailouts and health care reform, and what they would do instead.