Former Rep. Dick Armey (R.,Tex.), whose Freedom Works organization has helped the Tea Party grow, said Tuesday in Philadelphia that the movement was conceived the moment President George W. Bush endorsed Sen. Arlen Specter (then-R, now D) over Pat Toomey in the 2004 Republican primary.
Conservatives have long been angered by that endorsement, viewing it as a triumph of political maneuvering over principle. Specter went on to defeat Toomey by 17,000 votes out of more than 1 million cast. Former Sen. Rick Santorum (R.,Pa.), who also endorsed Specter in 2004, has apologized again and again for the move in early primary states as he explores a run for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Of course, Toomey's decision last year to challenge Specter again drove him to the Democrats.
Toomey is now the Republican nominee for Senate, facing Democratic Rep. Joe Sestak Nov. 2. So far Toomey hasn't been taking credit for sparking the Tea Party as he campaigns, though he shares many of the movement's views on government spending, regulation and the need to reduce taxes.
At least 14 Tea Party-inspired candidates have toppled Republican establishment incumbents or picks in primaries this year. Among them: Christine O'Donnell of nearby Delaware, who famously has had to try to live down her statement on "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher" that she "dabbled into witchcraft" as a teen.
Naturally, Democrats would like to hang responsibility for some the more - er, unusual - Tea Party candidates around Toomey's neck. After all, he was head of the Club for Growth, a powerful advocacy group that has spent a decade pushing from the GOP candidates and officeholders deemed insufficiently pure in their conservatism.
Sestak's campaign said in a statement that Toomey and O'Donnell would be a "perfect match" in the Senate, calling extreme his positions in favor of allowing younger workers to invest some of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, zero corporate taxes and giving China preferred trading status that, the Democrats argue, has cost American jobs.
"Congressman Toomey may not be a witch, but his policies are just as scary," said Sestak spokeswoman April Mellody. "Eliminating all corporate taxes, privatizing Social Security and shipping jobs to China are so out of touch with Pennsylvanians that if you didn't have a private plane, you'd need a broomstick to reach them."