Energized conservative activists reveled in their power this week after the GOP primary defeat of Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) at the hands of Tea Party-backed Richard Mourdock. The Tea Party has struggled for visibility since its heyday leading up to the 2010 midterm elections, but grassroots activists crow that their victory over Lugar, the longest-serving Republican senator in Washington, will reinvigorate the movement. "We're already starting to see the momentum carry to other states," Jackie Bodnar, spokeswoman for the Tea Party umbrella group FreedomWorks, tells The Wall Street Journal. Who will Tea Partiers go after next? Here, a few of their top targets:
After the polls closed in Indiana, sealing Lugar's fate, activists at the national headquarters of FreedomWorks started chanting, "Hatch is next!" That would be Orrin Hatch, the six-term Utah senator facing a primary challenge next month from Tea Party-backed former state Sen. Dan Liljenquist. Hatch, like Lugar, is a Senate veteran who has "worked with Democrats — a blasphemous credential to some Tea Partiers," says Matt Negrin at ABC News. Still, many analysts expect Hatch to survive, especially since he's shifted right to defuse the opposition, recanting his vote for the bank bailout, and opposing immigration measures he once supported. The Tea Party may lose this battle, but, by forcing Hatch to veer right, it has arguably "won the war."
In Texas, wealthy and well-known Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is the mainstream GOP's choice to replace Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. But first, Dewhurst will have to beat primary challenger Ted Cruz, the 41-year-old former solicitor general who's backed by the Tea Party Express and whom FreedomWorks' Brendan Steinhauser calls "the biggest Tea Party rock star in the class of 2012." Though 10 points behind, Cruz has raised nearly as much cash as the higher-profile Dewhurst, says William Kristol at The Weekly Standard. So look out: Tea Party conservatism may "again rear its (ugly, to the establishment; fetching, to some of us) head" in this May 29 race.
Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham... in 2014
Wait until 2014, when moderate Republicans will really have something to worry about, says Juan Williams at Fox News. Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina will be up for re-election then, and they — and other centrists — "will have to start thinking about how they will stay in the Tea Party's good graces if they are to survive GOP primary contests." Collins and Graham "fail to meet the hard-right, uncompromising approach to conservatism of the Tea Party," and unless they make big changes, they're top targets in the next electoral cycle.