Jefferson, the sixth largest county in the state, has been a traditional swing area where Republicans have to perform well to win statewide. Pres. Bush carried it by 600 votes in 2004 and Pres. Obama carried it by two percentage points in 2008.
Harris also noted that the Tea Party movement has been particularly strong in the Southwest part of the state, which is Steelman's geographical base.
"They are a force," he added. "And they have been successful in primaries."
Steelman may yet win the backing of local Tea Party organizations. Mostly because of her of unsuccessful 2008 primary run for governor against Republican Kenny Hulshof, Steelman has built a strong anti-establishment brand. That image was bolstered in 2010, when she came close to challenging then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R) in the Senate primary.
Those credentials could attract the backing of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who has become a kingmaker of sorts among Tea Party activists.
There are other reasons, however, why the Tea Party may not take to Steelman. The first is her husband, David Steelman. He has served on Missouri's Board of Governors for trial attorneys and, according to Missouri Republican operatives, is Steelman's closest political adviser.
"If she's Sarah Palin with an economics degree, then he's Todd Palin with a political science degree," mused one.
That connection led Steelman to side with personal injury attorneys against small businesses when she was in the state Senate -- something Tea Party groups are likely to scoff at. Steelman also had a centrist voting record and often sided with labor unions during that time.
Ultimately, Steelman's viability -- both among Tea Party and establishment Republicans -- will be determined by whether Talent gets in the race and how much money she is able to raise.
"Sarah's big challenge is going to be raising the dough," said a Missouri Republican consultant. "If she had raised the dough, she would have beat Hulshof in 2008."
Talent has said he is strongly considering a run for his old seat, but Missouri GOP insiders think he may be hesitant to run again. Several Missouri Republican operatives note that Talent hasn't aggressively sought the backing of major donors recently or reassured them that he will, in fact, pull the trigger.