Dems seize on tea party candidates' social stances

ALBANY, N.Y. -- The tea party movement was born in anger over the recession and the Obama administration's bailouts, and built largely on a platform of lower taxes and smaller government. But some of its candidates are getting tripped up on social issues.

In New York, Carl Paladino, the tea party-backed Republican candidate for governor, caused a furor when he said children shouldn't be "brainwashed" into thinking homosexuality is acceptable.

In Colorado, GOP Senate nominee Ken Buck has tried to deflect questions about his stance against abortion rights. In Delaware, Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell has come under fire over the conservative religious views she espoused as a TV commentator.

One by one, tea party challengers have veered away from the issues of taxes and spending -- or in some cases were pushed off message, either by the media or by the Democrats, who have tried to portray the insurgents not as populist alternatives to the mainstream GOP but as Republican regulars.

Alan Abramowitz, a political science professor at Emory University in Atlanta, said his research shows tea party activists are overwhelmingly conservative Republicans.

"My feeling has been that social issues were always an important component of the tea party movement all along," Abramowitz said.

Some tea party candidates are trying to moderate their social views or deflect attention from them back to the economy.

In Kentucky, tea party Republican Rand Paul, a candidate for Senate, opposes abortion, same-sex marriage and a proposed mosque near ground zero in New York City. But he doesn't talk about it much.

"I say the top three issues of the tea party movement are the debt, the debt and the debt," Paul said.

But in May, just hours after he won a landslide primary victory, he took heat for a rambling interview in which he expressed misgivings about the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and appeared to suggest that businesses be allowed to deny service to blacks without fear of federal interference.

Paul scrambled for damage control, issuing a statement saying, "I believe we should work to end all racism in American society and staunchly defend the inherent rights of every person."