Sarah Palin has called for Republican candidates to adhere to the tea party's anti-tax, small-government message. John McCain has endorsed this position.
McCain, in supporting the tea party concepts of his former running mate, is acknowledging that what once was seen as a fringe movement has moved closer to center stage in American politics in a very contentious and highly charged partisan atmosphere.
Since McCain and Palin's unsuccessful campaign against President Barack Obama two years ago, the former Alaska governor has grafted her populist message onto the ultraconservative tea party movement that has been embraced by Republicans, who are forecast to take control of the House of Representatives in the Nov. 2 congressional election.
The conservative vow to spend less, reduce taxes and shrink the size of government has gained significant traction this year, particularly with Obama struggling unsuccessfully to reinvigorate the economy and reduce unemployment. The jobless number remains stuck near 10 percent after the worst U.S. economic downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.
The ailing economy has easily trumped the legislative achievements of Obama and his fellow Democrats, as angry voters appear to be ready to vote the pocketbooks above all other issues — including Obama's health care and financial regulatory reform.
The opposition blames the administration for an upward spiraling debt even though Obama and his political allies assert, with the backing of major economists, that failing to infuse the economy with their more than $800 billion stimulus measure would have lead to a second depression.
In a seeming readiness to turn to Republicans, voters also appear to be ignoring that former President George W. Bush took control of a budget surplus but left behind a significant deficit after eight years in the White House. The devastating recession began more than a year before the Republican president left office.
McCain said on a morning television news program that Republicans "betrayed our base, particularly in the area of fiscal responsibility" when they seized control of Congress back in 1994. "What Sarah is saying is, 'We've got to get fiscally responsible Republicans in.' " spending, anti-tax message.
Democrats, meanwhile, were testing what was clearly a pre-election gambit, as their top leaders in the House and the Senate vowed to try again to push through a $250 bonus for Americans who receive Social Security, the American old-age pension system that also provides benefits to the disabled.
The Democrats' pitch, with two weeks remaining until the election, is designed to raise voter awareness of Republicans' inclination to lower spending on the critical social program, with many conservatives contending it should become a private rather than government safety net. The program was instituted during the Great Depression by Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt and has been a political target of Republicans ever since.
Obama first urged Congress to approve the $250 payment for the 58 million Americans who receive Social Security back in February. The measure twice failed in the Senate earlier this year and was never voted on in the House.
Now, House and Senate Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid say they will bring up the legislation when lawmakers return in November. In theory, Democrats who have been voted out but will not leave office until the new Congress convenes next year would find it easier to back the measure.
"Instead of helping seniors," Pelosi's office said, "Republicans, backed by their allies on Wall Street, are threatening to privatize and cut Social Security, just as they tried to do under President Bush."
Added Reid, "The only thing standing in the way of America's seniors receiving this critical support are Senate Republicans."
In fact, 12 Democrats and one independent who is aligned with the party voted against the $250 bonus when it first came to a vote in March.
As the countdown to the election continues, Democrats have slightly closed the gap nationwide with Republicans in balloting for all 435 seats in the House and 37 or 100 Senate slots. There also are 37 state governorships at stake in the so-called midterm election, so named because it falls at the midpoint of the presidential term.
Obama is not on the ballot until 2012, a fact that is hurting the Democrats who oversaw his landslide victory two years ago with the help of disgruntled independents and a huge turnout among young, first-time voters and African-Americans.
Obama is shuttling around the country in an attempt to restore enthusiasm among Democrats and to plead with his winning constituency to go to the polls again this year. Polling ahead of the vote shows he and the Democrats face a difficult battle in closing the so-called enthusiasm gap. Republicans and tea party allies are expected to flood polling stations to vote their anger over the economy and what they see as big government intrusion into their private lives.