Tea Party Knockoffs: Watered Down, Bitter

The tea party movement started just over a year ago -- disorganized, homegrown protests spurred on by out-of-control federal spending and a common feeling that elected officials in Washington were more interested in gaining power than in acting on their constituents' best interests.

The first scattering of small protests grew into a national movement that had an impact on special elections in New York and Massachusetts. Conservative Doug Hoffman unseated Republican Dede Scozzafava with tea party support, before losing the NY-23 congressional seat to Democrat Bill Owens 48% to 46%. Scott Brown, the new Republican senator from Massachusetts, also gained significant support from grassroots tea party groups, including ad buys in the closing weeks of the campaign.

Suddenly, the same Democratic politicians and pundits who dismissively referred to those involved in the populist revolt with a sexual pejorative found that it was a force to be reckoned with -- and, if possible, to be undermined and marginalized.

There is perhaps no clearer example of an attempt to co-opt and undermine the tea party movement than the false flag operation that appears to be taking place in Nevada for the benefit of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Unpopular nationally for being thin-skinned and surly, Reid is foundering in his home state of Nevada, where he faces reelection in November. Reid has consistently trailed Republican challengers in his reelection bid; he trails all four in recent polls. Without a major shift, Reid's political career would seem to be on the cusp of drawing to an ignoble end.

And then in walked Scott Ashjian.

Scott who?

You can be forgiven if you don't know who Scott Ashjian is, or where he came from, or if he's even a serious candidate. Even local journalists haven't had much luck figuring that out. All we know for certain is that Ashjian seems poised to jump into the 2010 Nevada Senate race as a third-party candidate representing the newly formed Tea Party of Nevada.

The group, established merely weeks ago, is attempting to trade on the name of the grassroots tea party movement. Though while tea party protests arose organically and simultaneously over the past year, the founding officers of the Tea Party of Nevada don't seem to have been active in any local or regional tea party events. In fact, they don't have any ties to the movement at all. If anything, they seem to be an odd mix of cranks and conspiracy theorists, fronted by a registered Democrat who once represented a reattached John Wayne Bobbit. And the perspective candidate Ashjian may as well be Nessie for his reclusiveness and unwillingness to give interviews or make public appearances.

The Tea Party of Nevada doesn't seem to be a serious attempt at a third party, but instead seems intent on siphoning off enough support from Republican candidates leading in the polls to put Reid back in contention. Whether or not the Democrat-led Tea Party of Nevada is successful will likely depend on how well Republicans and real tea party activists do in exposing the group attempting to co-opt the votes of their more casual supporters.