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Tea Party scored big wins in midterms, now must look to future

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After scoring some legitimizing victories in Tuesday’s midterm elections, the Tea Party has bigger things brewing, conservative observers say.

In its first major test, the Republican movement that campaigned on a message of fiscal responsibility won Senate seats in Kentucky, Florida, South Carolina and Utah. Tea Partiers also were instrumental in helping the GOP wrest control of the House from the Democrats.

“The Tea Party undoubtedly engaged a tremendous amount of people into this process who otherwise would not have voted in the midterm election or at least not made as deliberate a vote,” said Tony Sayegh Jr., a Republican strategist.

Now the focus shifts from campaigning to legislating — and when it comes to spending, Democrats aren’t the only ones Tea Party lawmakers will zero in on.

“Hopefully, they will check the Republicans who were there before and keep them close to their principles,” said John Zaher, a Republican political consultant.

Alan Chartock, a professor and political scientist at SUNY Albany, doubted the Tea Party would have much staying power. Generally, when a formidable third group emerges in politics, one of the major parties absorbs its agenda, Chartock said.

The next big step for the movement would be putting its most recognizable face, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, into the 2012 presidential race.

While a potential White House bid was strengthened by Tuesday’s Tea Party victories, Palin — like Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell, who lost her Senate bid — might be a stronger candidate in primaries than in the general election, Zaher said.

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