Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON -- Democrats and their campaign strategists have been underestimating the political power of tea- party activists ever since they packed into town halls in the summer of 2009 to protest Obamacare.

They were dismissed as thugs, extremists and racists -- people on the fringe of American politics. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared some of them to Nazis. Democrats dismissed them as an embarrassment and predicted they would hurt the Republican Party, and they are still predicting that today.

Senior White House political adviser David Plouffe was dissing them in the past week, telling reporters that tea party-backed Senate candidates like Rand Paul in Kentucky and Sharron Angle in Nevada were boosting enthusiasm among Democrat voters and will have a "pronounced effect" -- particularly in 2012 -- on Democratic turnout.

Plouffe, Barack Obama's 2008 campaign manager, who is now poorly advising the president on his midterm election strategy, thinks GOP Senate nominee Christine O'Donnell, Delaware's tea-party insurgent, is the best thing that could happen to the Democrats. "She was ... the icing on the cake in terms of this," Plouffe said of O'Donnell, who once admitted she "dabbled in witchcraft" in her youth and recently ran a campaign ad that proclaimed, "I am not a witch." O'Donnell has her problems and has been running well behind her Democratic opponent, but she is not going to be a factor in next month's nationwide midterm elections, no matter how hard Plouffe wishes it so. The Democrats have much deeper troubles of their own.

What Plouffe and most of the nightly news talking heads refuse to recognize is that the major tea party-supported Senate nominees are running ahead of their Democrat rivals, often by double digits.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.