MIAMI (AP) — This wasn’t the revolution the tea party had in mind.
Four years ago, the movement and its potent mix of anger and populism persuaded thousands of costumed and sign-waving conservatives to protest the ballooning deficit and President Barack Obama’s health care law. It swept a crop of no-compromise lawmakers into Congress and governor’s offices and transformed political up-and-comers into household names.
But as many tea party stars seek re-election next year, conservative activists are finding themselves at a crossroads. Many of their standard-bearers have embraced more moderate positions on bedrock issues such as immigration and health care.
“They keep sticking their finger in the eyes of the guys who got them elected,” said Ralph King, a co-founder of the Cleveland Tea Party Patriots.
The tea party is a loosely knit web of activists, and some are hoping to rekindle the fire with 2014 primary challenges to wayward Republicans. But many more say they plan to sit out high-profile races in some important swing states next year, a move that GOP leaders fear could imperil the re-election prospects of former tea party luminaries, including the governors of Florida and Ohio.
In the summer of 2009, tea party supporters stormed congressional town hall meetings, shouting down lawmakers who had voted for the bank bailout and the stimulus package. The movement’s voice grew louder after Democrats passed the health care overhaul, and voters took their outrage to the polls in 2010.
But not long after some tea party stars took office, political analysts said, they were forced to adapt to a changing landscape, particularly in states Obama won in 2012, and to the realities of governing.
The tea party also fell out of favor with many people. At its height after the 2010 elections, a CBS News poll found that 31 percent of those surveyed considered themselves tea party supporters. A May survey found just 24 percent identified with the movement.
Facing sagging approval ratings, tea party Republicans, some of whom were elected by slim margins, shifted tactics.
Fla. Gov. Rick Scott, a former health care company executive who won office by attacking the health law and calling for deep cuts to state spending, has embraced the health law and signed one of the largest budgets in state history. Similarly, Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, and Rick Snyder, R-Mich., are battling their GOP-dominated legislatures to expand Medicaid, a big part of the health law.
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