In several Republican primaries, Tea Party-endorsed candidates enjoyed great success. Sharron Angle won the Nevada primary for US Senate by a landslide and started the general election campaign with a huge lead against incumbent Sen. Harry Reid.
In Florida's Senate contest, Tea Party favorite Marco Rubio forced Republican Gov. Charlie Crist to run as an independent. Polls showed that Crist would have lost the primary election to Rubio by a wide margin.
Finally, in Kentucky, Rand Paul defeated his Republican primary challenger by a comfortable margin. Paul emerged from the primary with a huge lead over his Jack Conway, his Democratic opponent.
These victories, combined with a simplistic media narrative that portrays the election results as a bad sign for incumbents, helped to fuel the belief that the Tea Party was a powerful new political force that would wield tremendous political power in November. Many commentators, however, are now rethinking that message.
Once conservative Tea Party candidates began running general election campaigns and receiving scrutiny from the national media, their leads, particularly in politically divided states, evaporated. Today, a Mason-Dixon poll shows that Harry Reid now leads Angle by 7 points. In Florida, most polls have shown Crist leading Rubio since he abandoned the Republican Party. In addition, the latest poll has Conway and Rand tied in Kentucky (which is more conservative than either Nevada or Florida).
It is too soon to call these elections. Nevertheless, the tightening of the races confirms earlier analysis which predicted that Tea Party candidates would encounter difficulty in politically divided states -- even if they trounced opponents in Republican primaries. While Tea Party candidates should have an easy time in reliably conservative states like Utah and South Carolina, how they will perform in other jurisdictions remains an open question.