By MAGGIE HABERMAN & ALEX ISENSTADT
Tea party forces are seizing on a new strategy in their attempt to purge Senate incumbents from office: the recall.
While itâ€™s not entirely clear whether their approach will meet constitutional muster, that hasnâ€™t stopped determined groups of grass-roots activists from trying in nearly a half-dozen states.
The most prominent attempt to recall a sitting senator is currently unfolding in New Jersey, where Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez awaits a state high court ruling on whether a recall effort against him can go forward.
The New Jersey lawsuit â€” which questions whether tea party forces can legally gather signatures to petition for a ballot recall of a federal official â€” is emerging as the beachhead for a movement that some activists envision sweeping the country, the next step in the evolution of tea parties as a political force.
New Jersey Democrats have denounced the effort but are nevertheless nervous enough over it â€” and the press coverage itâ€™s received â€” to launch a Web page designed to slam it. Party leaders have gone so far as saying itâ€™s racially motivated against a Hispanic official, a claim tea party activists vehemently deny.
Other states where nascent recall efforts have been launched against Democrats include Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu has been targeted, and North Dakota, where Sen. Kent Conrad is the target. Tea party leaders said their allies in Colorado and Michigan are also closely monitoring the RecallNJ effort for clues on how to proceed.
If the suit succeeds â€” a decision is expected in the coming weeks â€” it will almost certainly raise the alarm among incumbent senators, even those who arenâ€™t on the ballot this year.
Still, there are several considerable obstacles to recall efforts: Thereâ€™s currently no explicit provision providing for the recall of a federal official, and case law in some states has gone against such efforts before.
And if it loses the legal fight, some critics argue, the tea party movement could find itself dismissed as a transitory political force, a high-impact media phenomenon that doesnâ€™t have many legs beyond the peculiar 2010 cycle.
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