SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — The tea party is alive and well in Indiana's congressional races, but voters may not notice it at the polls Tuesday.
Two years after gaining footing in Indiana with rallies that attracted large crowds but mixed Election Day results, supporters have taken a quieter approach this year, working behind the scenes to persuade solid candidates to run, and then getting to work for them.
How well the approach worked will become clear Tuesday night as results from nine congressional races in Indiana's primary are tabulated.
The races include three open congressional seats, two of which feature tea party-backed candidates. The tea party also back candidates in the 3rd District, where Rep. Marlin Stutzman is seeking re-election, and the 8th District, where Kristi Risk lost to Larry Bucshon by fewer than 2,000 votes in the Republican primary two years ago and is challenging him again. With tea party-favorite and former state Rep. Jackie Walorski favored in the 2nd District race, where she narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly in 2010, the movement hopes for a strong showing on the November ballot.
Candidates say the lack of hoopla isn't a sign of lack of interest.
Risk compared the rallies two years ago to a rally before a football game, saying they were successful in bringing together people with a common purpose.
"They're still there," she said. "They're just much more organized."
Observers say one reason congressional tea party candidates haven't received as much attention this election is because much of the movement's focus this campaign season has been on the Senate race between state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, who has tea party backing, and six-term incumbent Richard Lugar.
"A lot of our energies are there. That's certainly where mine is," said Greg Fettig of the tea party group America Refocused.
But Stutzman, the only tea party candidate from Indiana to win a seat in Congress, said the behind-the-scenes approach also is part of a natural learning progression.
"You can only wave signs for so long," Stutzman said. "At some point you have to go out and work to get the message out to the voters."
Tea party candidate Don Bates Jr., a financial from Winchester who is one of eight seeking the 6th District seat vacated by Rep. Mike Pence, said he is pleased to see tea party candidates working more to try to shape the Republican Party. He said a move like splitting from the GOP, which some had discussed during the last election, would have been a disaster for conservatives.
"I've said all along that if the tea party ever leaves the Republican Party this nation will vote Democrat for the next 40 years, so I sense a responsibility to make sure we keep the tea party engaged and involved in our efforts," he said.
Risk blames the media for part of the talk about a split between tea party members and the Republican Party.
"They made the tea party into a third party," she said. "It's a mix of just people who said, 'I don't want and let a two-party system decide my future.' That's all the tea party is."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman Dan Parker said he hopes tea party candidates are successful, because he believes the majority of voters won't support polarizing candidates in November.
"With our moderate candidates right in the middle of the electorate, we're going to be able to take advantage of it," Parker said.