Even before Ted Cruz captured the nation's attention over the healthcare law -- with more than 20 hours of talk that included a reading of Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham -- the freshman U.S. senator was affecting Texas politics.
Inspired by their success in helping Cruz score his surprise win in last year's race over GOP establishment candidate David Dewhurst, Tea Party members had already begun preparing to launch more challenges in next year's midterm elections.
They have already fielded a challenger to one of the most powerful Republicans in the U.S. House -- and say more incumbents may be in the line of fire as well.
"The Tea Party is still part of the equation," said James Henson, a government professor at the University of Texas in Austin and director of the Texas Politics project. "They haven't gone away.
"I think there will be more Tea Party announcements."
One frequently discussed potential target is Texas' senior senator, John Cornyn, who has yet to draw a declared primary challenger. Cornyn has hired a Tea Party veteran to help run his re-election campaign next year.
"Republicans have shown more of a willingness than Democrats to buck their own party's establishment and support outsider challengers," said Kyle Kondick, managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Republicans still have more to fear in primaries than Democrats, it seems."
Tea Party members, frustrated by what they called extreme government spending, began mobilizing and making their voices heard in mass about five years ago. They say they are invigorated by the success of electing Cruz to the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Republican Kay Bailey Hutchison.
Cruz's 2012 campaign could provide a road map for challengers on how to beat well-funded establishment candidates.
"His victory over Dewhurst rightly or wrongly gave Tea Party and ideological/conservative candidates a model on how to run against an establishment candidate," Henson said. "It's too soon to tell the Tea Party impact.
"Their influence has stabilized to some degree ... but the Tea Party has a seat at the table."
The first salvo
Katrina Pierson, a Garland woman who became active with the Tea Party in 2009 and quickly became a leader of the movement in Dallas, announced earlier this month that she's challenging U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Dallas.
Sessions, who heads the key Rules Committee and was a major player in raising money and recruiting candidates to boost House Republicans' numbers to reclaim the House majority in 2010, has for years drawn high marks from key conservative groups such as the National Rifle Association, American Conservative Union and National Right to Life.
But Pierson, who is making her first bid for public office, said it's time to move politicians "who have been in Washington far too long" back home where they belong.
"I know we can do better," she wrote in a statement about why she's seeking elected office. "That our best days are not behind us. That the American people will not stand idly by while our country is lost to the least of its citizens.
"The people of my hometown deserve an elected leader who will fight for them -- a leader who won't play the go-along-to-get-along, business-as-usual politics that have been hurting this country for so long."
Sessions, who has served in Congress since 1997 and was chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee in 2010, has said he believes his conservative record "speaks for itself" and that constituents of Congressional District 32 will "continue to trust" his leadership.
"Sessions is a very powerful person who has a lot of allies -- this was the congressman who led the Republicans to a great U.S. House victory in 2010," Kondick said.
The political arm of FreedomWorks for America, a national anti-tax grassroots group, quickly threw their support behind Pierson.
"Katrina Pierson has led the fight to elect principled conservatives across the state of Texas for years," FreedomWorks PAC President Matt Kibbe said in a statement. "While incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions seems more concerned with keeping his seat at the leadership table, Katrina understands the importance of connecting to the grassroots at home and sticking to your guns in Washington.
"She is the clear choice for voters who want a strong leader who will fight both the Republicans and Democrats in Washington who continue to spend money we don't have."
FreedomWorks was instrumental in Cruz's victory last year.
Pierson said she doesn't know if she will be the only Tea Party challenger in North Texas after the Nov.9-Dec. 9 filing period.
"I can tell you that most of Texas' congressional delegation is severely underperforming in an attempt to lead from behind," she said. "Congressional members have not been intellectually honest with constituents regarding the ability of Congress to act on issues such as Obamacare and the investigation of Benghazi. It will be up the voters to decide if they will be allowed to get away with that or not."
During the last midterm election, in 2010, a number of Texas congressional leaders drew Tea Party challenges, including Sessions, Kay Granger of Fort Worth and Kenny Marchant of Coppell. All won their re-election bids.
Last week, as Cruz spoke on the Senate floor for 20 hours -- which included reading Green Eggs and Ham to his daughters for their bedtime story -- conservative groups called out Cornyn and other senators for not standing with him.
More than 70 conservative Texas groups joined together to send "a strong message to Cornyn and the U.S. House Texas delegation -- stand with Sen. Cruz and fight."
And the Senate Conservatives Fund sent out a statement knocking both Cornyn and Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
"We can't let these turncoats force millions of Americans into this liberal train wreck," the group said in an email. "This country belongs to us, not the politicians in Washington. Let's make sure they hear us loud and clear."
The group hasn't said if it will back a challenger to Cornyn or McConnell in next year's election, and no candidate has so far stepped forward to declare a Tea Party challenge to Cornyn, the Senate minority whip.
Cruz has already said he will not make an endorsement in Cornyn's race.
Texas' senior senator has already hired a well-known Tea Party organizer -- Brandon Steinhauser, a former grassroots director for FreedomWorks who has ties with statewide Tea Party activists -- to help run his re-election campaign.
"The midterm elections in 2014 will be vital to the future of our country and our state, especially given the interest that liberal Democrats have shown in trying to turn Texas blue," Cornyn said earlier this year. "I look forward to working with my team to ensure that Texas remains red."
And he has said he brought Steinhauser on board his campaign because he has been "working hard for conservative policies and candidates" in dozens of states.
Steinhauser has called Cornyn -- a former Texas attorney general and former associate justice on the Texas Supreme Court -- a conservative leader and vowed to work hard for his re-election.
Among the GOP senators believed to be targeted in 2014 by the Tea Party: Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Susan Collins of Maine and McConnell.
"People are still deciding to run or not run," Henson said. "This is going to go on for a while."
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