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'Tea Party' eyes big prize: the 2010 midterm elections

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One of the marquee House races this cycle sits in the heart of Virginia, in the mostly rural, conservative-leaning Fifth Congressional District. Seven Republicans are vying in the June 8 primary to face freshman Rep. Tom Perriello (D); five are tea party adherents. So far, they are trailing state Sen. Robert Hurt, the Republican establishment favorite, in name recognition and fundraising.

"The downside for the tea party is that you have Senator Hurt, who is pretty much the anointed one from the GOP and gets that 'hard R' support," says Mark Lloyd, head of the Lynchburg Tea Party. "The others split up the rest of the support. Everybody's kind of got their favorite in the race."

Aside from being the establishment favorite, Hurt has also earned tea party scorn over his 2004 vote to increase taxes. The biggest problem, for now, is that the seven Republicans are spending money fighting among themselves, rather than going after the Democrat. If any of the tea party candidates breaks away before the primary to run as an independent, the problems could deepen, as the Republican/conservative vote could be split in the general election.

Across the nation, Republicans are flocking to run in congressional primaries, with more than double the number running in 2010 than in 2006. "Every Republican candidate wants to reach out to these local organizations in their state," says Mr. Wasserman.

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