Is Third-Party Formation The Way Forward For Tea Partiers?

The Las Vegas Sun reports today that the "Tea Party" has qualified as a political party in Nevada and will put up a candidate to challenge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) in the state's 2010 Senate race.

This comes after a report 11 days ago from the Hartford Courant that Tea Partiers had done the same thing in Connecticut, filing with the Secretary of State's office to become a third party in that state (though there was some confusion about this at the Connecticut Secretary of State's office).

This raises the question: does the future of the Tea Party movement lie in forming officially recognized political parties on a state by state basis?

The third-party model has been used successfully in New York by the Conservative Party, and, in the left, in New York and Connecticut by the Working Families Party.

Those states have fusion-voting laws that allow political parties to endorse major-party candidates, with candidates identified on ballots as running simultaneously on the major and third-party ticket. In New York, for instance, progressive Democratic candidates are listed on state election ballots as affiliated with both the Democratic Party and the Working Families Party.

With the Tea Party functioning almost as a wing of the GOP base--whose seal of approval Republican candidates are actively seeking--forming as a third party, particularly in fusion-voting states, appears to be an intriguing option for the Tea Partiers.

A small handful of states across the country have fusion-voting laws, according to Working Families Party spokesman Dan Levitan, while other states have laws that theoretically could allow for fusion voting, but where the practice hasn't actually been tested in many years.

"It's a way to have your own institution without playing into the trap of the two-party system," Levitan said. "It lets you demonstrate independent strength."

Every state has different laws on what it takes to become a political party, Levitan says. In some it is very difficult; in others, it is not.

Filing as a third party has its benefits, Levitan says, but "it's also a lot of really hard work, so whether these people have the endurance and the an open question."