Do you repeatedly point out all the perceived flaws of the new suitor, hoping that they resonate? Or do you insist that the new guy is just like the ex, and suggest that repeating the pattern will only lead to misery?Democrats from the White House down to the party’s central committee office in Multnomah County, Ore., say they are debating the best way to leverage the victories of scores of Tea Party candidates who prevailed in primary races, like Christine O’Donnell, who surprised many last week by winning the Republican nomination for United States Senate in Delaware. Beyond the dozens of candidates runningin House and Senate races, Tea Party hopefuls — defined here as candidates who have been endorsed by one of the movement’s major sponsors — are also competing in at least seven races for governor, according to the Democratic Governors Association.
Many Democrats have chosen to run against the Tea Party — as opposed to the Republicans in Washington — by repeatedly pointing out positions theybelieve general election voters would not cotton to, like privatizing Social Security, abolishing entire federal departments, upending certain civil rights laws and outlawing abortion, even in the case of rape. Not all Tea Party candidates share these positions, but many have spoken in favor of one or more of them.
“Our strategy is to help voters understand that what these folks are talking aboutis so far out of the American mainstream that they represent a clear and present danger to the political health of the country,” said Mark Alan Siegel, chairman of the Democratic Party in Palm Beach County, Fla. The county is partly in the 22nd Congressional District, where a Tea Party candidate, Allen West, is challenging a Democratic incumbent, Ron Klein.
This tactic was employed early on byHarry Reid, the Senate majority leader, who is in a tough fight against Sharron Angle to keep his Nevada seat. Mr. Reid’s campaign has consistently portrayed Ms. Angle as, in the language of one advertisement, “just too extreme,” a person who would attempt to dismantle entitlement programs and an advocate of “armed resistance.”
It also may help Democrats that the Tea Party, while attracting theenthusiasm of many Republican primary voters, may lack broad support. In a New York Times/CBS poll released last week, only 19 percent of respondents said they considered themselves supporters of the movement.
“Voters get very taken aback with anger in politics,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. “They may rail against the deficit, but moderate, middle-of-the-road Americans rejectpoliticians who flash anger — especially women, and they are still the majority of the electorate. Women in this country are not angry. They are anxious.”
But a growing group of Democrats believe that their best move is to yoke the Tea Party to the policies of the Bush administration, Newt Gingrich and other Congressional Republicans whom President Obama has said drove the nation into a ditchbefore he was elected.
“I think it is necessary to associate them with the Bush administration and the Republican Party,” said Jim Burn, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. In that state, Pat Toomey, a Tea Party candidate, is in a tight race for the Senate seat held by Arlen Specter, who was defeated in the Democratic primary by Joe Sestak.
If they want to succeed in turning TeaParty candidates into everyday Republicans with crazy hats, Democrats have some math in their favor. In the New York Times/CBS poll, 30 percent of respondents said they approved of the way Democrats in Congress are handling their jobs — but only 20 percent approved of Republicans.
Pennsylvania’s governor, Edward G. Rendell, said Democrats could argue that even a non-Tea Party candidate could...