In a new WaPo article, Miller Center Forum Chair and Washington Post Contributing Editor Douglas Blackmon documents how the Tea Party has been transforming itself into a more viable political operation. Many eyes are on the GOP run-off election for the Senate nomination in Texas today, where thanks to intense Tea Party efforts, young conservative Latino star Ted Cruz appears likely to win against an establishment-supported candidate. But, as Blackmon documents, the Tea Party’s revival and transformation goes beyond today’s race. Indeed, Tea Party efforts have helped oust GOP incumbents or to force primary run-off elections. According to Blackmon:
The movement has retooled into a loosely organized network of field operations that, as in Texas, pushes Republicans toward more strident conservative positions and candidates, while supplying ground troops across the country for candidates and big-money conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
Meanwhile organizations affiliated with the Tea Party are actively recruiting and mobilizing voters in support of party-backed candidates in state and local elections, including in critical states such as Ohio. Perhaps even more impressive and a telling sign of its future viability are efforts to raise funds. According to Blackmon:
FreedomWorks says that almost 190,000 activists have joined its “FreedomConnector” online network and that it expects fundraising in 2012 to exceed the approximately $21 million it collected last year. Through the end of May, tea-party-associated political action committees had raised almost $18 million.
Tea Party Patriots, an organization that says it is affiliated with more than 3,500 local tea party groups, reported raising $12 million in donations in 2011 and says it is on track to match or surpass that number this year.
It remains unclear, however, whether and how these mobilization efforts will play out in the presidential contest. There are divisions within the Tea Party over its alignment with the establishment GOP and many have been critical of Mitt Romney. Yet their “preference for any alternative to President Obama” could be enough of a motivating force to boost pro-Romney efforts.
While the Tea Party is more of a loose network of organizations than a centralized structure, it remains a force with which both Republicans and Democrats alike will have to reckon, certainly in this election cycle, but perhaps over the long-run as well.