Quinnipiac confirms what Democratic strategists have banked on: tea party candidates could hurt the Republican Party at the polls this November.

Tea party candidates, running as third-party candidates or incorporated under state-registered Tea Parties, would siphon votes from Republican candidates in congressional elections this fall, Quinnipiac finds. From Quinnipiac's release:

While voters say 44 - 39 percent that they will vote for a Republican over a Democratic candidate in this November's Congressional elections, if there is a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat would get 36 percent to the Republican's 25 percent, with 15 percent for the Tea Party candidate...

That's exactly what could be happening in Nevada, where Tea Party candidate Scott Ashjian could upset the GOP's chances of defeating Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in his reelection race.

Self-identified tea partiers are actually just Republicans and Republican-leaning independents, Quinnipiac finds:

•    74 percent are Republicans or independent voters leaning Republican;
•    16 percent are Democrats or independent voters leaning Democratic;
•    5 percent are solidly independent;
•    45 percent are men;
•    55 percent are women;
•    88 percent are white;
•    77 percent voted for Sen. John McCain in 2008;
•    15 percent voted for President Barack Obama.

A caveat about this set of data: the sample size of tea partiers is small. Quinnipiac surveyed 1,907 registered voters nationwide, and 253 self-identified as tea partiers. The margin of error among tea partiers was +/-6.2%.

It's unclear how many districts will see third-party tea party candidates, as there is still some time for third-party candidates to jump in. In most cases, however, the tea party election drama will play out in Republican primaries, with conservative challengers seeking to claim the support of tea party activists to defeat front-running Republican candidates.

Democratic thinking on the tea party's potential harm to Republicans goes beyond third-party bids. The hope, for Democrats, is that the presence of tea-party-ism will yield ultra-conservative Republican primary winners and that some GOP candidates will be forced too far to the right to win general elections in their districts.


Thumbnail photo credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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