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On display at raucous Republican debate Monday night was the tea party itself

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Monday night underlined what most political observers have understood ever since the midterm elections in 2010, says Alan Abramowitz, professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta.

The tea party is “a reflection of the long-term growth of polarization on both ends of the political spectrum, especially in the increased conservatism of the activist base in the Republican Party, and will be a factor in whoever is nominated,” he says, noting that in the most recent Gallup poll, more than half of all Republican voters say they support tea party values.

James Hedtke, author of “Lame Duck Presidents: Myth or Reality,” concurs, saying the tea partyers’ passion and tendency to vote will make them a particular force to be reckoned with during the party’s search for a candidate.

“The passionate forces tend to turn out in the primaries and caucuses,” says Dr. Hedtke, chair of the history and political science department at Cabrini College in Pennsylvania, noting that in most states, voter turnout hovers at around ten percent in this early process. “That makes this group particularly influential in choosing the candidate,” he notes, while at the same time presenting a challenge for the larger Republican Party.

“The danger for the Republican Party,” says Mr. Frazier, “is that to the extent that the tea party is in control, it could drive the party over a cliff,” nominating a candidate that cannot win in a general election.

However some political analysts say the tea party’s influence will wane.

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