Voting rights activists said tea partiers' efforts to obtain voter registration records could have a chilling effect on turnout, potentially undercutting Democrats and swaying the outcome of the Nov. 2 elections.
Activists on Wednesday noted that dozens of tea party-aligned groups have sought records and are planning to visit polling places on Election Day to enforce their own "voter protection" programs.
"No one wants voter fraud, but unfounded fears cannot serve as prevention of actual voters casting actual votes," said Michael Waldman, the executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice.
EDITOR'S NOTE _ An insider's view of this year's elections based on reports from around the nation.
And with anger at Washington at a fever pitch and an anti-incumbent sentiment growing, the loosely organized tea party's efforts to challenge voters on Election Day could dissuade scores of voters from casting ballots, the activists said. Tea party groups from California to Florida have organized to go to polling locations to check registrations themselves.
"We are worried this year that we could see large-scale efforts to challenge voters at the polls," said Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute based at New York University.
Gloria Montano Greene of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials also cautioned that the persistent anti-illegal immigrant fervor could drive down turnout or unfairly target those who appear to be immigrants.
Black voters, too, are likely to face challengers, activists warned.
"We know that we continue to face stark levels of voting discrimination around the country," said Kristen Clarke, co-director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund's voter project.
Chef and television personality Nathalie Dupree has become the sixth hopeful to enter the race for the Senate seat from South Carolina served by Jim DeMint.
Dupree, who has written 10 cookbooks and whose hundreds of cooking shows have been telecast nationwide, has launched a write-in campaign for the seat.
"I got into the race because I had thought someone would be stepping forward to give Jim DeMint enough of a hard time so that he couldn't feel he could just ignore South Carolina," she said Wednesday.
DeMint has spent time campaigning in other states to help candidates to victory in Republican primaries through his political action committee.
"I think he's more interested in being a king-maker and aiming for power toward himself," Dupree said.
The incumbent's Democratic opponent is Alvin Greene, the unemployed 33-year-old military veteran who faces an obscenity charge. Greene surprised the Democratic establishment when he won the party nomination in June.
Dupree, who calls herself an independent Democrat, said someone needed to strongly challenge DeMint, whose office had no comment on her campaign.
"My decision to run against Alvin Greene is a 'bless his heart' decision," she added. "I wish the most of him personally but, bless his heart, he is not doing a good job against Jim DeMint."
West Virginia Republicans are taking shots at Democratic Senate candidate Joe Manchin over an ad that shows him firing a hunting rifle at a paper target labeled "Cap and Trade Bill."
GOP Chairman Mike Stuart issued a statement Wednesday faulting Manchin for failing to wear either the blaze orange clothing required when hunting or eye and ear protection.
"Any real hunter knows to not wear tan, brown or white clothing when hunting, because those colors are associated with game species," Stuart said.
Manchin wasn't hunting in the "Dead Aim" ad. He was firing at a mounted target.
The ad touts his endorsement by the National Rifle Association and clarifies the governor's opposition to proposed federal legislation that would regulate greenhouse gases and potentially hurt West Virginia's coal industry. West Virginia is the nation's second-largest coal producing state.
Manchin spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg dismissed the GOP attack as desperate and ridiculous.
Manchin's GOP opponent, John Raese, violated a critical safety rule in 2006, she noted, when he was running for the same seat against the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd. He posed for photographs with his finger on the trigger of a rifle.
Manchin, in contrast, "is an avid outdoorsman who followed the proper rules as they pertain to general target shooting," Ramsburg said.
Guns and hunting are a major part of West Virginia's culture, and both sides are trying to appeal to the common sense of sportsmen with Election Day less than three weeks away and the race tight.
Locked in an unexpectedly tough re-election campaign, Democratic Rep. Tim Walz of Minnesota has been criticized by his Republican rival, state Rep. Randy Demmer, for his support of health care legislation.
Walz's latest response: At least I've read it.
Walz's campaign on Wednesday seized on comments Demmer made during a debate in Rochester, Minn. Asked directly if he had read the health care law, Demmer replied, "No, I didn't."
Walz's spokesman, Sara Severs, says Demmer's response shows that "he puts the national Republican Party over southern Minnesota's interests."
Democrats' health care reform legislation has been a top issue in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District. Walz, who voted for the legislation, has stuck by his vote. Demmer has called for the law to be repealed.
Associated Press writers Bruce Smith in Charleston, S.C., Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report.