Tea party test cases: The hard right runs hard on Election Day

The tea party is “over,” says the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In 2010 the movement helped Republicans win the House but was also blamed for costing the GOP Senate seats in Delaware, Nevada, and Colorado.

How will insurgent conservative candidates fare on the ballot across the country Tuesday? (RELATED: Senate races fill Election Day with GOP hope, Democratic intrigue)

Ted Cruz: Cruz was one of the big tea party success stories this year, coming from behind to beat Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst in the GOP primary race to succeed retiring Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. He is a heavy favorite to expand the Senate Tea Party caucus of Rand Paul, Jim DeMint, and Mike Lee when the new Congress is seated in January. The last two polls of likely voters show Cruz breaking through the magic 50 percent line and beating Democratic former state Rep. Paul Sandler by more than 15 points.

While some 2010 tea party candidates like Christine O’Donnell and Sharron Angle were rough around the edges, Cruz is polished and politically experienced. He is a former Texas solicitor general, a Princeton graduate, and a former Harvard Law Review editor. If elected, Cruz has promised to be a conservative leader. “If I go to Washington and just have a good voting record,” he has said, “I will consider myself a failure.”

Richard Mourdock: Mourdock was the tea party giant-killer of this election. Indiana first elected Richard Lugar to the Senate in 1976. He hadn’t dipped below two-thirds of the vote since 1982. Yet Mourdock, the Indiana state treasurer, ran to Lugar’s right and beat him by a 61 percent to 39 percent margin.

Since then, Mourdock has reverted to O’Donnell/Angle form at least to this extent: he has made the Indiana Senate race much more competitive than it otherwise would have been. Mourdock has been hovering around the mid-30s and low-40s in the polls. Then defending his position on abortion in a debate, the Republican said, “even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.” A subsequent Howey/DePauw University poll showed Mourdock trailing by 11 points, Rasmussen has him down 3.

Both Mitt Romney and Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence are expected to have strong coattails in Indiana, so a Mourdock win is still not out of the question.

Jeff Flake: In his five terms in the House, Flake has emerged as a leading fiscal conservative who is willing to vote against spending projects supported by his own party. An early favorite to succeed retiring Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl and take a seat once held by Barry Goldwater, Flake has been in a considerably tightened race.

In early October, Democratic former Surgeon General Richard Carmona opened up a slim lead over Flake. The Democrat ran hard against Flake’s positions on abortion, contraception, and immigration, trying to use the “war on women” theme and run up big margins among Latinos. Since then, Flake has regained his lead and holds a 5.5-point edge in the Real Clear Politics polling average.

Todd Akin: Akin is a strong social conservative, but he actually wasn’t the tea party favorite in the Missouri Republican primary. Yet the six-term House member prevailed and was initially a double-digit favorite over Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Then Akin quickly run into a controversy over rape and abortion.

“It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin told a local television channel. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Akin plummeted in the polls, trailing at one point by as much as 15 points. But he has since recovered somewhat and Public Policy Polling has him just 4 points behind McCaskill.

Michele Bachmann: Bachmann briefly hoisted the tea party banner in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, winning the Ames straw poll in Iowa and vaulting near the top of national GOP polls. Her presidential campaign ended after a sixth-place finish in the caucuses. The Minnesota congresswoman has since focused on running for re-election to her House seat.

Bachmann has come under fire for alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the U.S. government. Some polls have suggested Bachmann is in trouble, but she has won tough races before.

Justin Amash: The Michigan Republican freshman is the second-youngest member of the House and is such a stickler for the Constitution that he annoys the GOP leadership. Amash opposed Paul Ryan’s latest budget because it did not cut spending and reduce the debt quickly enough. He is considered Ron Paul’s successor as the congressman most likely to vote no when everyone else votes yes. One poll shows Amash in a tight re-election race, but in late October the Republican’s polling gave him a 14-point lead.

Allen West: West has been one of the most vocal House GOP freshmen, saying that President Barack Obama wants to Americans “to be his slave.” West has accused Florida Democrats of “shenanigans” and “nefarious actions” in the state’s early voting fight. Democrats targeted West, one of just two black Republicans in the House, the moment he won his seat in 2010. Cook Political Report rates his race a toss-up.

Joe Walsh: Walsh is not the former Eagles guitarist, but he is a high-profile tea party freshman. Representing an Illinois swing district long held by conservative Republican Phil Crane and then by Democrat Melissa Bean, Walsh is considered one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents. His Democratic challenger is Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs and injured her right arm in the Iraq war.

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