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Collapse of the GOP? Tea Party Beats Grand Old Party in Poll

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Establishment Republicans, take notice. The Tea Party is about to steal your thunder.

According to a poll by Rasmussen Reports, likely voters in the 2010 congressional elections would rather cast a ballot for a candidate bearing the Tea Party brand than one on the Republican line.

In a national survey of likely voters, Rasmussen asked respondents to choose their favored political party for the congressional contests in what pollsters call a generic ballot. In a three-way contest, Democrats fared best, with 36 percent, while a hypothetical Tea Party came in second at 23 percent, and Republicans pulled up the rear with 18 percent. But there is one wrinkle in the Tea Party triumph scenario: There is no political party called the Tea Party, which might lead one to question whether Rasmussen is stirring the simmering pot of Republican Party politics.

Although the poll results look awful for Republicans, the absence of an actual established political party called the Tea Party makes the GOP the likely host party for Tea Party-endorsed candidates. While this could lead to some losses in 2010, the net effect will likely be to move the establishment GOP further to the right-wing Tea Party agenda of small government, lower taxes, union busting and virtually no social safety net.

Tea Party leaders like to present their movement's challenge to the GOP as something born outside the beltway, but this is really a fight between Republican Party figures. In addition to former House Majoirty Leader Dick Armey, who served as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's Number Two during those heady days of the Republican congressional majority that impeached President Bill Clinton, Tea Party allies include sitting senators and members of Congress.

The Tea Party movement made its first electoral mark in last month's special election in New York State's 23rd congressional district, where Armey's endorsement of a third-party challenger to the Republican candidate led to an influx of Tea Party activists campaigning on behalf of Conservative Party contender Doug Hoffman. In his wake, Armey's candidate drew endorsement from A-List Republicans, such as Sarah Palin and Minnesotal Gov. Tim Pawlenty. When Dede Scozzafava, the GOP candidate, withdrew from the race and endorsed the Democratic candidate, Armey & co. chalked up a win, even though the Democrat won the seat. Armey and the Tea Partiers had effectively put Republican leaders on notice by vanquishing their candidate.

"We'll probably be getting more political in targeted races," said FreedomWorks Press Secretary Adam Brandon.

And they already have. Tea Party movement groups are supporting primary challenges to establishment Republican candidates, such as Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, who faces challenger Marco Rubio, endorsed by Armey, in the GOP primary for a U.S. Senate seat. Tea Party activists could also, as they did with the Conservative Party in New York State during a special election last month in the state's 23rd congressional district, work with an established third party in areas where the Republican Party machinery is locked up.

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