The Tea Party Hit List for 2012

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge & Sherisse Pham
Power Players

Spinners and Winners

In Texas, conservative Ted Cruz is looking for a Marco Rubio-esque victory. Like Rubio, Cruz came out of nowhere to challenge an established Republican candidate for the Senate nomination.

The similarities are striking: Rubio's father came from Cuba to the U.S. in 1958 and got a job as a bartender; Cruz's father came from Cuba in 1957 and got a job washing dishes; Rubio is 40, Cruz is 41; Rubio took on a powerful governor, Cruz is taking on a powerful lieutenant governor.

Ted Cruz is the whole package, says Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a conservative group with links to the Tea Party. "He's got the values, he's got the resume of someone that has always fought for these ideas, he's got the charisma, and he's willing to burn a little shoe leather getting elected and it's got to be that combination."

Cruz has already raised $4 million - a staggering sum for an underdog.

Conservative activists are also trying to topple Senators Orrin Hatch and Richard Lugar, the two most senior Republicans in the Senate. In Indiana, State Treasurer Richard Mourdock is looking to take down Lugar. Over in Utah, recently resigned State Senator Dan Liljenquist is trying to topple Hatch.

These battles pit Republican against Republican, which have the potential to hurt the party's chances of taking back the Senate.

"Well sometimes you got to clean house," said Kibbe. "Sometimes you got to bring in new energy. If you have a firm that's failing, sometimes you go to bring in new management, new ideas, that's what we're doing."

It's a Tea Party's power test, whether any of these three end up in the U.S. Senate.