Will the Tea Party Candidates Win?

In a word: maybe.

The Tea Party movement has succeeded in nominating a legitimate crop of conservative candidates this year, pushing them to victory over establishment-backed Republicans in primaries across the country. The trend has been particularly noticeable in Senate races.

For some time, Democrats have hoped that the Tea Party and the general rightening of the Republican base would hurt the GOP in the end--that either bruising primaries would push frontrunning Republican candidates too far to the right, or right-wing extremists (their words, not mine) would win, landing spots on November ballots across the country and making Democratic candidates more appealing.

Phase one has happened just as Democrats hoped. In a handful of Senate, House, and gubernatorial races, conservative candidates have won out in their primaries.

But how will they do in November? Will they win? Or will the Tea Party movement prove to be a boon for Democrats, after all.

A look at a few of the most prominent conservative candidates to emerge, and how they may fare in their general elections:

  • Sharron Angle, CO: Angle is polling competitively, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid leads narrowly. Reid lost the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, which may hurt him, but the NRA isn't endorsing Angle, either. Right now, Reid leads by between one and three percentage points in major polls, and he enjoys a huge cash advantage over Angle. Reid seems to have the edge.

  • Marco Rubio, FL: The original Tea Party candidate, Rubio succeeded in pushing Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party at a time when Crist was expected to walk away with the election and keep this Senate seat in the GOP's hands. Most polls show Rubio leading comfortably, but a survey by Quinnipiac shows Crist ahead by seven percentage points. At the moment, Rubio has the edge.

  • Rand Paul, KY: Paul defeated the candidate backed by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, and he now leads Democratic Attorney General Mike Conway by about five percentage points in recent polls. Despite stumbling out the gate by struggling to define his stance in the Civil Rights Act, Paul retains the edge over Conway in a close race.

  • Mike Lee, UT: In one of the biggest coups for fiscal conservatives, Lee replaces incumbent Sen. Robert Bennett on the Republican ballot this November after ousting him at the party convention in May, then going on to win the primary against another Tea Party favorite who helped bring down Bennett, businessman Tim Bridgewater. Utah is a safely Republican state, and Lee is all but certain to become its next senator.

  • Joe Miller, AK: Democrats have suggested that Miller's stunning upset over Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski last week has put this seat within their reach. It's unclear to what degree that's true, but Miller's win has certainly made this race more competitive for Democrats than it was two weeks ago. Democratic Sitka Mayor Scott McAdams is running against Miller in November; he wasn't the first choice of Alaska Democrats, but he's their candidate now. Alaska is a difficult state to poll, but two major firms have found Miller ahead by six and eight percentage points since he won his primary, and it seems more likely than not that Miller will represent Alaska in the next Congress.

  • Ken Buck, CO: Buck beat out the less-conservative Jane Norton in his primary, and he now faces incumbent Sen. Michael Bennet in the general election. (Full disclosure: Bennet is the brother of Atlantic editor James Bennet.) Polling is split on this race. Rasmussen, which many see as favoring Republicans, shows Buck ahead by single digits; Public Policy Polling, a firm that works mainly for Democrats, has produced independent polling that shows Bennet ahead by three percentage points. At this point, the race is a tossup.

On the whole, the Tea Party candidates seem to be doing okay. If we're making predictions, Tea Party candidates will win four of six of those races above. In some cases, the Tea Party has benefited Democrats; in other cases, it will succeed in making the Republican Senate conference more conservative in 2011.

A lot can happen in the final months of the election, and we'll know more when these candidates file their next financial disclosures with the Federal Election Commission. For now, "maybe" seems to be the best answer on Tea Party candidates' success.
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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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