A year ago, the political hurricane known as the "Tea Party" erupted in made-for-YouTube confrontations at congressional town hall meetings on the pending health care overhaul.
This August, the movement’s supporters seem less rowdy — perhaps because they’re pounding the pavement and dialing phones, trying to alter the balance of power in Congress in the fall elections. While Tea Party-favored candidates have lost in contests including the California GOP Senate primary, they have won Republican Senate primaries in Colorado, Kentucky, Nevada and Utah.
They say it’s just the start.
"We’re not in this to make noise and to saber-rattle," says Dan Blanchard, of the Louisville Tea Party, which helped Rand. Paul claim the Senate nomination in Kentucky. "We’re in this thing to win."
The test now: Whether Paul and others can prevail under even tougher scrutiny and win over the broader electorate that votes in November. That will require a sustained commitment from a network that revels in its bottom-up nature and loose organization.
"That’s part of the verve and vibrancy," says Rep. Michele Bachmann. At the first meeting of the congressional Tea Party caucus last month, the Minnesota Republican underscored the primacy of the grass roots by having members of the public sit on the dais normally reserved for members of Congress. Lawmakers sat in the audience.