The Tea Party has been seen as a growing conservative force in U.S. politics, and elected many candidates to office in 2010. But the results of the election last night gave the movement a mixed bag. Many won reelection, but several prominent candidates lost.
What a difference two years can make.
The Tea Party, the unexpected star of the 2010 mid-term elections, suffered a bit of the sophomore blues in 2012. Some of its iconic figures were repudiated at the polls and others clung to their political lives.
And the outcome Tuesday night perplexed leaders of the feisty movement, who were eager to oust President Barack Obama and turn the Senate to Republican control.
"I’m just stunned by this evening," said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation. "This should have been the night that Republicans won and won big."
Instead, Obama won four more years in office and Democrats retained control of the Senate. And even in the House, where Republicans kept their majority, the Tea Party suffered setbacks.
Reps. Joe Walsh of Illinois and Allen West of Florida, two freshmen Tea Party members who was frequent figures on TV during the debt crisis of 2011, fell in their re-election bids. And Rep. Michele Bachmann, a leader of the Tea Party caucus, was locked in a race too close to call early Wednesday morning.
Another casualty was Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, the Republican who signaled the Tea Party's rise by capturing liberal icon Ted Kennedy's Senate seat in a special election more than two years ago. He was unseated this time by his Democratic opponent Elizabeth Warren. Likewise, the Tea Party favorites in the Senate races of reliably Republican Indiana and Missouri also were upset.
The results left Tea Party leaders scratching their heads.
"There needs to be some serious introspection in the Republican Party," Phillips said. "If tonight finished the way I think it's going to finish, some heads need to roll."
It wasn't a complete loss for the Tea Party and other conservative freshmen, as many retained their seats.
Rep. Renee Ellmers, a former nurse turned politician, easily won a second term in North Carolina's 2nd District. She was estimated to have gotten almost 60 percent of the vote. The Washington Guardian reported earlier that Ellmers was one of the House's heaviest users of franked mail - taxpayer funded mailings to constituents - despite complaining that lawmakers used the service too much. Ellmers also accepted several privately-funded international trips during her first term in office.
And Marlin Stutzman won a second term in Indiana's 3rd District. Stutzman collected a number of federal subsidies for his farm, despite repeatedly stating he wants to reduce the scope of government.
Former Florida sheriff Richard Nugent won a second term, as did fellow Florida Republican Steve Southerland. Georgia freshmen Congressman Austin Scott easily won reelection. He ran unopposed.
The Washington Guardian recently examined the performance of the Tea Party freshmen in Congress, reporting they used their franked mail privileges frequently like the incumbents they ousted, accepted more than $1 million in free travel from special interests and quickly embraced the perks of incumbency like leadership political action committees.
Although not freshmen in Congress, two prominent GOP Senate candidates lost: Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock in Indiana. Both men drew national attention over controversial comments they made about abortion rights in cases of rape.
"Todd Akin’s remarks didn’t help him," Phillips said. "That’s probably what cost him his election.”
But Phillips said he didn't view those Senate results as representing national opinion on the Tea Party movement.
"I don’t think it’s a referendum on the Tea Party because the Tea Party was never mentioned,” he said, commenting that both candidates largely ignored the movement during the campaign.
Phillips said that with the government facing the fiscal cliff, he doesn't expect a lot to change in Washington. And that will keep the Tea Party fighting for the smaller government, less spending and lower taxes it has championed since its inception in 2009.
"The fiscal cliff will not hit," he said. "They will not fix the problems what they will do is come up with a solution that kicks the problem two or three years down the road.”
The Tea Party is a conservative movement focused on reducing government and balancing the budget. The group gained wide attention when many of its favored candidates won election in 2010.