“As disappointing as it was when the nomination went to Mitt Romney, we all knew we had to work from the bottom up,” said Konni Burton, a leader of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, in the suburbs of Fort Worth. She and other activists criticize Dewhurst as too conciliatory toward Democrats in the Texas Legislature and generally too moderate in his politics.
Burton’s laundry room is one of dozens of local distribution points set up by tea party groups to send out literature promoting Cruz. Over the past few days, she and hundreds of other tea party supporters phoned tens of thousands of voters, knocked on doors and waved signs on street corners across the state.
“Boots-on-the-ground stuff,” Burton said. “It makes me laugh when people say the tea party was dead.”
Cruz also got a boost from last-minute visits to Texas by major tea party figures, including former Alaska governor Sarah Palin and Republican Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Rand Paul (Ky.).
Regardless of how the Texas vote turns out, it’s clear that a transformation is occurring and that it could have an effect on the presidential election in November — and the longer-term balance of power in the Republican Party.
The tea party is no longer the rising tsunami it appeared to be in 2010. Largely gone are the disorderly rallies, colonial-era costumes and fixations on fringe issues, such as the provenance of the president’s birth certificate. Instead, the movement has retooled into a loosely organized network of field operations that, as in Texas, pushes Republicans toward more strident conservative positions and candidates, while supplying ground troops across the country for candidates and big-money conservative groups, such as the Club for Growth and Americans for Prosperity.
Challenges to the establishment
This year, tea party efforts have helped oust long-standing centrist Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and have forced establishment GOP incumbents or candidates into primary runoffs in Utah and Texas. In Utah, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch easily held off the tea party challenger in one of those runoffs — partly by tacking hard to the right.
“The ability of the tea party to really influence the quality and makeup of a potential Republican majority in the Senate is going to be a really big story,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based tea party support group chaired by former House majority leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.).