SALT LAKE CITY — Is 2010 the year of the tea party?
The full answer to that question comes Tuesday, Election Day.
The tea party is already credited with bringing energy and new people into the political process.
On Election Day, tea party-backed candidates are predicted to win enough races, including here in Utah, to clearly change the political dynamic in Washington.
Tea party displeasure with government, particularly the federal government over spending, has been expressed at rallies all over the country this year, including Salt Lake City in March. At that rally, many expressed their frustration with the direction of the country.
"Limiting government would be great, getting back to the basics of the constitution. We're so far away from that now," said Tana Allen, of West Jordan.
That energy has morphed into bona fide political influence, with tea party backers turning out at the polls, according to political analysts who examined the movement at a Hinckley Institute Forum Friday at the University of Utah.
"It's the energizing of a new set of voters," said Mark Button, an associate professor of political science. "What we see is that something like 86 percent of the leaders of those grass-roots movements say the people who are participating are entirely new to politics."
In some prominent cases, like that of conservative Utah Sen. Bob Bennett, long-time incumbents were sent packing. Come Election Day, other incumbents could find themselves looking for a new job.
"We're seeing either stronger candidates or sitting incumbents who are losing positions," said Matthew Burbank, associate professor of political science at the U. "That's a circumstance which is relatively unusual. We don't see a whole lot of that."
Tea party influence is already seen in a surge in GOP voters. Republicans had roughly 4 million new voters nationally in their primaries, according to Hinckley Institute Director Kirk Jowers.
"They will be a force this year," Jowers said.
The tea party is expected to win enough seats to forge a sizable caucus in Congress to pursue its agenda. Then comes the hard part — helping run a federal government it has loudly criticized.
"Very quickly one of the things that has to happen is you have to change from campaign mode to governing mode," Burbank said.
Other political observers wonder how the tea party energy will sustain itself beyond Election Day.
"How long will that endure?" asked Button. "Will these tea party movements still be around trying to organize and mobilize people once the elections are over?"
Voting for this year is already under way, via mail and early voting. For those doing it the old-fashioned way on Election Day, polls open at 7 a.m. Tuesday and close at 8 p.m.