The Tea Party made its name rallying Republican voters in primaries and general elections around the country, but one influential leader is calling on the movement to turn its sights on the other side of the aisle in 2012.
Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, surprised attendees at this month's ultra-partisan Faith and Freedom Convention in Washington by insisting that there were Democrats deserving of the group's backing as well.
"There are Democrats out there who are our kind of Democrats," Meckler said. "There are Democrats out there who think what we think and it's our to job to find -- yes, sacrilege -- Democratic Tea Party candidates."
He went so far as to advise Republicans in Democratic districts to switch their affiliation and vote in the party primary in order to maximize their effect on the race. "It's your job to find the right kind of Democrat," he recalled telling one Tea Party voter frustrated with his Democratic-leaning district.
There's a certain pragmatic logic to Meckler's plan. With the GOP majority close to its high water mark following the 2010 wave, there may be few possibilities to expand the map any further into Democratic territory. And a more conservative Democrat in a safe seat is better than nothing.
"We've looked at the map, we know the numbers," he told TPM in an interview.
Meckler conceded that there are yet few examples of Tea Party activists influencing a Democratic primary. He said he was heartened, however, by the recent nonpartisan special election primary in CA-36, which unexpectedly saw a Republican advance to the general election in the heavily Democratic district. While the GOP candidate is unlikely to win, the results demonstrated that activists were willing to put in hard work even in a solid Democratic race.
For now, it's unclear the movement can ever be convinced to put the same effort into electing Democrats, let alone one who may hold individual positions anathema to conservative activists. To many observers, the movement is virtually indistinguishable from the Republican base. Nonetheless, there have been rare instances in which Tea Party groups crossed party lines. The Patriots' rival group, Tea Party Express, endorsed Democratic Rep. Walter Minnick in Idaho last year, for example, citing his votes against his party's leaders in Congress.