The tea party movement began in an unassuming way: A series of March 2009 conference calls of a couple dozen conservative and libertarian activists from across the nation. How far it has come. Yesterday, after taking back the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2010 and growing its rank and file members into the millions in less than three years, the movement made a bold but ultimately unsuccessful bid for a leadership position in the United States Senate.
With tea party support, U.S. Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) challenged U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) for vice-chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. With all 47 Republican Senators casting votes, Blunt won the vote narrowly, 25 to 22. But the tea party-supported Johnson challenge proves important symbolically as a demonstration that, while tea party-affiliated members of the U.S. House of Representatives have proven hugely influential in guiding the direction of that legislative body, support for the tea party movement and its policy agenda is growing in the U.S. Senate too.
Since the vote was conducted by secret ballot, no official list of how Republican Senators voted is available. But in garnering 22 votes, Johnson proved that the Republican minority of the U.S. Senate is increasingly sympathetic to tea party sentiments. Even in his home state of Missouri, Blunt failed to garner the support of the three Republican candidates now vying to face Democrat U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill in this November's general election, a sign that Republican candidates fear alienating the increasingly powerful tea party movement, whose support is deemed critical in national, state and municipal primaries across the nation.
Following his electoral victory, Blunt suggested that he hopes to be responsive to the tea party movement's policy agenda. "I hope that six months from now they're not disappointed," he said.
Several national tea party organizations and leaders had been vocal in support of Johnson's bid for the leadership position.