The tea-party movement is trying to regroup after taking some licks in this month's elections. Several groups already are setting their sights on 2014 congressional races, in which they plan to promote their preferred candidates and hope to weed out Republicans they consider insufficiently conservative.
Many tea-party activists say they remain dumbfounded by the Nov. 6 defeat of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and favored GOP candidates for the Senate, and opinions are swirling over how the movement should push forward.
In Virginia, organizations that canvassed aggressively for Mr. Romney are now girding for next year's election for governor. Many are moving to support Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in his GOP primary contest against Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling.
Conservative groups also are considering potential challenges to GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina, Lamar Alexander in Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss in Georgia, whom some activists view as not conservative enough.
After scoring a wave of successes in the 2010 midterm elections, tea-party groups found the environment much less hospitable this year in states where President Barack Obama's campaign made gains with the electorate.
One of the movement's most outspoken advocates, Rep. Allen West of Florida, lost his first bid for re-election, while Rep. Michele Bachmann, a founder of the congressional Tea Party Caucus, barely scraped by to keep her Minnesota seat. Still, many House freshmen backed by the tea party in 2010 survived this year, and Republicans retained their House majority.
"This was a very difficult year, with the strength of the Obama ground game and the fact that Romney just didn't inspire much enthusiasm," said Jamie Radtke, an unsuccessful 2012 Senate candidate and founder of the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots, a statewide umbrella group that continues to expand and now has over 60 member organizations. "But in many ways, we are stronger than ever," she said.
The federation, Ms. Radtke said, plans to play a big role in 2013 Virginia races, including those for the governor's and lieutenant governor's offices.
Across the country, tea-party activists are drawing different lessons from the year's setbacks.
One of the movement's big losses was in the Indiana Senate race, where Richard Mourdock, a favorite of tea-party activists, toppled six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar in the Republican primary, only to lose this month to conservative Democrat Joe Donnelly. Mr. Mourdock's campaign took a hit after he said that "even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something God intended to happen."
Tea-party activist Greg Fettig, a founder of Hoosiers for a Conservative Senate and a backer of Mr. Mourdock, said the main lesson from the loss is that activists need to be sure the campaigns they support are well-run.
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