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Reading the Tea Leaves: What Impact Will Tea Party Movement Have In Election Year

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(Sacramento, CA)
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Nathan Mintz is a political rookie. It’s the first time the Redondo Beach man has run for office and he’s set his sights on the Los Angeles-area Assembly seat being vacated by Democrat Ted Lieu, who’s termed out. 
“My reasoning for doing it was I just got sick of yelling at the couch, or yelling at the television on the couch.”
His frustration with things like mounting federal debt, California’s giant budget shortfall, tax increases and new regulations for business got him off of the couch. Mintz is a Republican, but he’s not really selling himself that way. Instead, he calls himself a tea party candidate. Last year he founded the South Bay Tea Party and got nearly two-thousand people out to an initial rally. But he says protests aren’t enough:
“We basically had given up on many of the elected leaders and decided that they’re basically not going to vote our way, no matter how much we scream at them, so that leaves the solution of voting them out.”
Mintz is one of a number of candidates across the state and country who feel that way. They support limited government and a stricter interpretation of the constitution:
This is from last year’s tax day tea party protest at the State Capitol. Thousands gathered from around the region to rally against tax increases and to support smaller government. But the tea party isn’t a political party. It’s a movement made up of many local groups and it’s a little ambiguous, which makes it hard to define how much power it has. Jon Coupal with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association identifies with the movement. He says it has significant reach:
 “I think it’s permeating everything. I think it’s going to have a profound impact on the federal races and state races as well.”
Jack Pitney is a political science professor at Claremont McKenna College. He says some GOP primary races may be affected by the movement – particularly the three Republicans trying to unseat Democratic U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer:
“There’s a lot of discontent and it’s focused at Democrats. Now how much of this is the tea party, that’s certainly another issue,  but certainly the tea party and Senator Boxer’s political challenges are all part of the same phenomenon.”
Pitney says some ballot measures could also be affected …. Such as the open primary measure on the June ballot – which would send the top two vote-getters from the primary – regardless of party – to the general election:
“The open primary on its face seems to be an anti-establishment, power to the people kind of measure and that might be appealing to the tea party movement, although ironically the effect would be to make it harder for third party candidates in the general election.”
According to the latest poll by the Public Policy Institute of California, about a third of likely voters have a favorable impression of the tea party. Mark Baldassare is President and CEO of the P-P-I-C. He says most of those in that group identify as Republicans, but both parties ought to pay attention to the movement:
“Maybe it’s something which will at some point in time begin to capture the interests of those independent voters who feels that neither of the parties are representing their interests.”
Governor Schwarzenegger has said the tea party movement isn’t going anywhere and will end when the economy recovers. But Political Science Professor Jack Pitney says in the end the power of the tea party comes down to one important question:
“Can they really turn out people at the polls?”
Pitney says he’s not ready to read the tea leaves on this one just yet – but says he will be paying a lot of attention to the movement over the next few months.  
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