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Has the GOP Collapse Begun? Hypothetical "Tea Party" Outpolls Republicans

Something is afoot among the conservative base -- voting Republican doesn't seem to cut it anymore, and incumbents are getting nervous.

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But DeMint is more than a Tea Party crowd-pleaser; he's positioning himself as a kingmaker. In Florida, where GOP leaders rushed to the side of Gov. Charlie Crist when he announced his 2010 run for an open U.S. Senate seat, DeMint endorsed primary challenger Marco Rubio, another favorite of the Tea Party crowd. DeMint's endorsement comes with more than kind words for the challenger; DeMint's PAC, the Senate Conservatives Fund, has money to spread around on behalf of challengers like Rubio. Charlie Crist's big sin in the eyes of the Tea Party crowd is neither his early career ambivilence on outlawing abortion or charges that he is secretly gay, but rather his appearance with Obama in support of the president's stimulus package. Dick Armey also endorsed Rubio.

"You will see in this movement, I think we're going to focus on a handful of [Senate] races like Connecticut, getting geared up, Nevada, getting geared up, Florida, supporting Rubio in the primary over Crist, and possibly even Rand Paul..in Kentucky," said Adam Brandon.

Brandon took his own vacation time, he said, to work for Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman in the special New York State congressional election. More recently, he said, Dick Armey met with the president of the Connecticut chapter of the Tea Party Patriots, Bob MacGuffie, who authored a memo on how to disrupt congressional town-hall meetings. In Connecticut, Democrat Chris Dodd is expected to face a tough re-election fight. "[W]e sat down, and we talked strategy in the Connecticut race, and I am so excited about Connecticut," Brandon said. (The FreedomWorks spokesman was quick to note that this was the first time that Armey and MacGuffie had met; when the MacGuffie memo was distributed this summer through a network involving FreedomWorks activists, Armey was a accused of being in league with the Connecticut activist. Brandon insists the two were not collaborating on the town-hall tactics.)

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is expected face a tough re-election battle. Tea Party activists in that state are touting the candidacy of Republican Danny Tarkanian, who currently leads Reid by seven points in a Rasmussen poll. Still, polling among Republicans for the Senate primary race finds the Tea Party candidate tied with former state GOP Chairwoman Sue Lowden, the establishment party candidate.

Kentucky libertarian Rand Paul, son of Texas Congressman Ron Paul -- the quixotic 2008 presidential candidate with a small but ardent following -- is giving his primary opponent a run for his money in the Republican primary for the seat being vacated by Jim Bunning. The AP reports that Paul is showing naysayers, who gave him little chance in defeating Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, giving him a second look, now that he has collected $1.3 million in campaign donations, largely through internet fundraising. Even with the backing of establishment Republican figures, Grayson is tied with Paul in the fundraising department.

Pennsylvania's Tea Party activists have a special dislike for Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last year after having spent most of his career as a Republican. While Spector appears to be well-positioned to fend of a challenge from his left -- he'll likely face a primary challenge from Rep. Joe Sestack -- he's running neck-and-neck with his likely Republican opponent, Tea Party favorite Pat Toomey, who addressed an event sponsored by another Tea Party-allied lobbying group, Americans for Prosperity, this summer.

Yet for all this Tea Party activity, the Rasmussen poll found that only 12 percent of Democratic voters were "closely following" the movement, and half of all Democrats had no opinion of the movement. Independents -- a group that broke for Democrats in the 2008 elections -- seemed most inclined to throw in with the Tea Party candidates, which could deprive the margin of victory to Democrats facing close races in 2010.