The Tea Party: Extreme or Mainstream in 2012?

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Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain is popular with the Tea Party for his anti-Washington stance and plan to restructure the tax code.

Some say he's being attacked because of those ideals.

Since its birth, the Tea Party has challenged traditional Washington thinking, especially its spending habits.

While many voters support the movement, its critics are resorting to labeling it as extreme and stubborn.

The 2010 midterm elections marked the arrival of the Tea Party.

And since that rousing success, Democrats have searched for a strategy to fight the movement.

"The American people are seeing the Tea Party for what it is. Extreme and their popularity is declining," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY.

Critics point specifically to the Tea Party's refusal to raise the debt ceiling or compromise with the Obama administration over the issue. That stance also angered congressional Democrats.

"As far as I'm concerned, the Tea Party can go straight to hell," Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif. said to an audience that responded with cheers.

The public also showed its frustration with the Tea Party. Polling has indicated Americans once favorable opinion of the Tea Party dropped from 26 percent to 20 percent while its unfavorable rating rose more than ten points.

That turnaround is also clear among crucial independent voters, who now feel Tea Party members are having a negative effect in Congress.

Supporters, however, are sticking to their guns.

"Anytime you go against the Washington establishment you're going to get pegged with some kind of label. I think the problem is so serious," one voter said.

"I think people have to take it seriously and we have to get the debt down and they're going to get demonized for that, but so be it. That's the only way we're going to save the country," the voter added.

There's no question that the Tea Party has fundamentally changed the D.C. Beltway field of play.

When President Obama took office, he marched down the field with talk of big spending. A dismal economy and growing deficit turned the ball over to the Tea Party. Their offense started strong with spending cuts, but like a team that lives by its playbook, it ran into trouble by holding the line on the debt ceiling.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky. told CBN News its principle first no matter what.

"I think the future of our country is more important than a deal. I think a solution is more important than a deal, and I don't think anything we did approaches a solution," he explained.

The question in 2012 is -- can the Tea Party continue to elect constitutional conservatives on Capitol Hill? Strength in numbers may be the only chance to change the Tea Party conversation from extreme to mainstream.

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David Brody is an Emmy Award-winning veteran news journalist who has interviewed many prominent national figures during his career of nearly 25 years. Currently, David covers the White House and interviews national newsmakers across the country.  Follow David on Twitter @TheBrodyFile and "like" him at Facebook.com/TheBrodyFile.