The Note: The Tea Party Paradox -- Whose Movement Is It Anyway?

ABC's Michael Falcone and Amy Walter report:

Tea Party Paradox. It’s the most vexing question of the 2010 election season: Just who and what is driving the movement that has led to a series of stunning electoral upsets, the most recent being last week’s Delaware Surprise? And, looking ahead to the 2012 campaign, will the Tea Party movement help or hurt Republican chances of advancing their agenda and even taking back the White House? At the Values Voter Summit in Washington that wrapped up this weekend, a troop of conservative heavy-weights celebrated Christine O’Donnell and her Tea Party compatriots, including one of the movement’s most inspiring figures, Sarah Palin. But when it came time to pick the candidate values voters most wanted to see at the top of the presidential ticket in 2012, they chose Rep. Mike Pence, a five-term Indiana congressman and member of House GOP leadership. So enamored were conference-goers of Pence, they not only picked him as their number one choice for president, but for vice president too. While Pence, who delivered a stirring speech at the summit on Friday, may not be an insider like House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, he’s not exactly an outsider either. Palin finished a distant fifth in the presidential straw poll, just below former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and above former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. A front-page article in Sunday’s New York Times also raised other questions about just how grassroots some elements of the Tea Party really are. Turns out that O’Donnell’s victory in Delaware last week -- not to mention a variety of other Tea Party wins around the country -- have been fueled, in no small part, by the Tea Party Express. The group’s central figure, Sal Russo is “a longtime Republican operative who got his start as an aide to Ronald Reagan and later raised money and managed media strategy for a string of other politicians,” The Times noted. “His history and spending practices have prompted some former employees and other Tea Party activists to question whether he is committed to, or merely exploiting, their cause.”

NOTED: In an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "Good Morning America" today, Rep. Pence said he was “honored” and “humbled” by the results of this weekend's straw poll and wouldn’t rule out a 2012 presidential bid. More on George's blog.

Warning Shots. It’s very clear that the White House is doing their level best to make sure the American public picks up on evidence of Tea Party hypocrisy and the encroaching influence of other “shadowy groups,” as President Obama put it in his weekly address in which he blasted Republicans for getting in the way of a legislative fix to the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” campaign finance decision. “We can see for ourselves how destructive to our democracy this can become,” Obama said in his remarks. “We see it in the flood of deceptive attack ads sponsored by special interests using front groups with misleading names. We don’t know who’s behind these ads or who’s paying for them.” And now there is chatter that the White House and Democrats are considering whether to link the Republican Party more closely to the Tea Party in the waning weeks of the fall election season through a national ad campaign. (The White House is denying a report to that effect by The New York Times's Jackie Calmes and Michael D. Shear, but it's a theme that Democrats are likely to highlight over the next few weeks.) So, can the Tea Party really be the rallying point that will help reverse, or at least mitigate, what looks like an electoral train wreck for Democrats in November? To put it another way, if the Tea Party is such a good thing for Democrats why aren’t their candidates doing better. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his GOP opponent and Tea Party favorite, Sharron Angle, are tied in Nevada. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is now spending money on attack ads against Christine O’Donnell in Delaware. And even though Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s write-in candidacy makes things interesting in the Alaska Senate race, does Democrat Scott McAdams have a chance against Tea Party-backed upstart Joe Miller?

Running Away. As Democrats consider whether there is enough time to change the narrative of the fall campaign with a sharper, potentially Tea Party-themed message, one story line remains clear, more vulnerable Dems in more districts appear to be putting distance between themselves and their leadership in Washington. And it’s not only President Obama they are running from, as the Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Karen Tumulty report, it’s House Speaker Nancy Pelosi too: “Democrats from a number of states, including Texas, Ohio and North Carolina, are running away from Pelosi in a harsh political climate. Distancing one's self from the speaker is nothing new for many Democrats … but the number of incumbents and the volume of their criticism of the party House leader is larger than it has been in past election cycles - and the volume of their criticism is louder.” ( FLASHBACK: On Friday’s edition of ABC’s “Top Line” Democratic strategist Steve Hildebrand warned, in an interview with Jonathan Karl, that running from Obama -- and the Democratic agenda more broadly -- is “stupid politics.” From the interview: “Is this about their reelection or is this about helping people? What are they in politics for? What are they in government for, if they’re not in government to help people?" Hildebrand said. "They should simply get out.”)

On The Road Again. President Obama continues his midterm push for Democratic candidates in key states today with a visit to Pennsylvania on behalf of Senate hopeful Joe Sestak, who is struggling against his GOP opponent, Pat Toomey. As the AP’s Julie Pace notes the “relationship between the White House and Sestak has been a rocky one. Obama backed longtime Republican-turned-Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in the primary contest that Sestak won earlier this year.” Recent polls show Toomey with a lead, and on the same day that Obama is headlining Democratic fundraiser in Philadelphia, Sestak is up with a new ad against his rival. This one hits Toomey for his ties to the financial sector. “A lifetime of serving our country versus a lifetime of serving Wall Street," is the choice that Sestak highlights in the new spot.

We’re Back. After a summer hiatus, The Note has returned to help guide you through the thicket of trends, polls, statistics and story lines during the home stretch of the midterm election season and beyond. Get The Note delivered to your inbox every day. Thanks for reading!

TODAY'S TOP LINE: Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Virginia, joins ABC's Amy Walter and Jonathan Karl for Monday's edition of "Top Line" to talk about the ongoing debate over whether to extend or end the Bush-era tax cuts, an issue that has provoked growing disunity among the ranks of Congressional Democrats. Watch LIVE at 12 p.m. Eastern.


Credit Where Credit’s Due. In his speech to the Values Voter Summit over the weekend, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich credited Sarah Palin and Sen. Jim DeMint for leading a conservative revolution that has created a groundswell of Tea Party energy around the country. “I’ll let you decide whether this is the DeMint-Palin-inspired movement or the Palin-DeMint-inspired movement,” he said, lavishing praise on Palin’s “public capacity through Twitter and Facebook and other devices and Sen. DeMint’s organizational ability.” But as ABC Political Director Amy Walter reports, one senior GOP strategist offers an interesting theory: John McCain and Barack Obama are the true “parents” of the Tea Party. Why McCain? The strategist said the Arizona Senator deserves credit for giving Palin a platform as well as planting seeds among white, non-college men by targeting them during the 2008 campaign. Why Obama? By pursuing an agenda that has that has been criticized by the right as an overreach of authority, he’s given a chorus of anti-government voices greater credibility.


It’s Witchcraft, Wicked Witchcraft. A 1999 video clip of Christine O’Donnell on an episode of his former show “Political Incorrect” in which she admits to dabbling “in witchcraft” was all the rage over the weekend. In the clip O’Donnell insists she never joined a coven but reveals that “one of my first dates with a witch was on a Satanic altar.” While campaigning in Delaware on Sunday, the candidate laughed off the comments: “How many of you didn't hang out with questionable folks in high school?"

GaGa Goes To Maine. Queen of the pop charts and darling of the push to eliminate the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule, Lady GaGa fired off a tweet last night inviting supporters to join her at a rally for the cause in Portland, Maine today. "Meet me in Portland, Maine 2moro, 9/20 to help repeal #DADT. I'm holding a Rally + speaking live in Deering Oaks Park," Gaga tweeted.

THE NUMBER: $32 Million

The amount of money that two GOP-led groups, American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS have raised this year thanks to the loosening of campaign finances rules. As the AP’s Jim Kuhnhenn reports: “The two Crossroads groups have launched ads attacking Democrats or supporting Republicans in Senate contests in Nevada, Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and California,” with more on the way.


Town Hall. President Obama participates in a one-hour town hall-style meeting on the economy on jobs and the economy hosted by CNBC’s John Harwood. The president will answer questions in front of a live studio audience starting at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

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