In a historically blue state like Illinois, Republicans who want a shot at an elected office usually stay on the moderate side. But things have changed, and the Illinois tea party takes credit for that.
"People are frustrated, they're looking for a way to do something other than hold a sign," tea party activist Tim Kraulidis told the Associated Press. "It's good to let everybody know you're mad, but what are you going to do with that?"
Kraulidis is the state coordinator for the Illinois Tax Day Tea Party, a collection of tea parties in Chicago's southern suburbs.
Though they came out in full force to rally against health care reform, local tea party activists have no intention of going anywhere. The Chicago Tribune reports that the health reform debate has given the movement "newfound energy."
"I feel empowered that more of us are getting together and standing our ground," tea partier Kathy Barkulis told the Tribune. "If they weren't afraid of us, they would just ignore us like they did at the beginning. We may win, we may not win, but you can't say we didn't try."
Some in the movement say they need to move beyond protests and create a more formal structure. Others say the movement's spontaneous character remains its greatest strength, even though they concede that their loose network opens the door to fringe elements, including a few who believe the Sept. 11 attacks were planned by the U.S. government.
"I think there would have been a tea party if John McCain had won the election," Steve Stevlic, who heads Tea Party Patriots Chicago, told the Tribune, explaining that the main goal for most tea partiers is to promote fiscal responsibility.
As tea partiers try to organize, state Republicans are wondering what this means for the upcoming elections. Most tea partiers feel Republicans are no longer conservative enough, and the GOP is listening.
"We need to re-establish our credentials with them, no doubt," Illinois Republican Party chairman Pat Brady told the AP.
Mark Kirk, who is being blasted by his opponent Alexi Giannoulias in the Senate race for being too "right wing," is taking heat from the tea party circuit for being too liberal--mostly due to his vote in favor of "cap and trade" legislation and his pro-choice stance. AP reports:
GOP candidates, Brady said, also need to convince tea party supporters of their commitment to being fiscal conservatives. But the party must find a way to satisfy the tea party voters without going too far or risk of alienating moderates.
While some tea party members told the Tribune they would not vote for Kirk because of such issues, others have a different philosophy:
Maria Rodriguez, the village president of Long Grove and a tea party sympathizer, urged Gurnee participants to be pragmatic in the general elections, even when they do not agree with a candidate 100 percent. They should vote for whoever is "not liberal Democrat," she said.
What do state Democrats think of the tea party's chances of upsetting them in the next election?
"The voters in the 11th District are not easily influenced by the rhetoric of fringe organizations like the tea party," said Travis Worl, U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson's campaign manager said in a statement. Halvorson is being challenged in the next election by Adam Kinzinger, a Republican and tea party supporter.
Rep. Danny Davis, one of Illinois' leading Democrats, told the AP that there are not enough hardline conservatives in Illinois for the tea party to have widespread success:
"I'm not at the level of any great fear at this moment," he said.