Outside Utah, the tea party’s best opportunity to have an impact unseating an establishment Republican was in Indiana, where Lugar drew activists’ ire for working with President Obama. He fueled anger earlier this year when he sounded dismissive of attempts to curb earmarks.
With the support of grassroots conservatives in Indiana, state Treasurer Richard Mourdock (R) entered the race to much fanfare in February. But while polls show Lugar remains vulnerable, Mourdock has run a lackluster campaign and hasn’t raised the money or gotten the support from national conservative groups that one would expect from a statewide officeholder.
The fiscally conservative Club for Growth, whose profile has risen after helping oust sitting Republican members of Congress, hasn’t endorsed Mourdock. The group met with him soon after he announced his campaign, and were disappointed enough with his command of their core issues that they decided not to back him, according to several sources familiar with the meeting. He made a better impression during his second visit with the group, but the perception stuck.
“There have to be things in place, and they’re not yet,” Club for Growth President Chris Chocola said in an interview earlier this month. “His fundraising needs to improve -- he hasn’t shown he’s been able to effectively fundraise yet. But he’s making progress.”
Conservatives can point to some promising Senate recruits, like state Solicitor General Ted Cruz in Texas and state Treasurer Josh Mandel in Ohio. The movement could also still wield huge influence in House races, especially with many new open seats being created thanks to redistricting process.
“I think that, at least within the tea party, we feel have lots of opportunities for not just pickups, but exchange -- getting someone who is going to be more fiscally conservative than the current senator,” said Walker of FreedomWorks.
Along with the Utah and Indiana Senate races, there are two other things to watch to test the potency of the movement. In Wisconsin, the Club for Growth is mounting a full-fledged attack against the not-yet-declared Senate campaign of former GOP Gov. Tommy Thompson, comparing him to Obama. Former Senate candidate Mark Neumann is seriously considering a run to Thompson’s right, and if he did, would likely receive the group’s backing.
Just as important are the dozens of emerging House races where tea party activists made the greatest impact, helping elect dozens of like-minded outsiders who have made cutting spending a major priority with the new Republican majority. But many were disappointed in the debt ceiling compromise backed by Republican House leadership, and are now turning on their former beneficiaries.
Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., is already receiving a primary threat, even though local tea party groups enthusiastically backed her bid just two years ago.
“People are really a bit upset that they saw members of Congress they worked so hard to elect so easily fall in line with GOP leadership on this,” said Republican consultant Keith Appell.