Earlier this month, Jon Ashjian entered the Nevada Senate race as a third-party candidate. Ashjian represents a group called the Tea Party of Nevada, whose values--"We believe in Limited Government, Free Speech, the 2nd Amendment, our Military, Secure Borders and our Country"--seem broadly consistent with those of the other groups using the Tea Party name. Yet many Tea Partiers have questioned whether Jon Ashjian and the Tea Party of Nevada are true friends of the movement. Last week, 20 Nevada-based grassroots groups signed a statement disavowing the Tea Party of Nevada and banning its members from "conservative grassroots events and functions" throughout the state. Why is the main Tea Party stem so suspicious of Ashjian and his group?

  • Party Pedigree Seems Confused Bob Owens, the conservative blogger behind Confederate Yankee, examines the Tea Party credentials of the Nevada party secretary Barry Levinson and finds them spotty at best. "Levinson is a disgruntled Obama supporter ... He's also a Bush-hating conspiracy theorist," Owens explains, linking to relevant entries on Levinson's own blog. "I've not heard of many... pro-Obama tea party supporters spouting radical left wing 'Bush lied, people died' conspiracies."
  • Real Tea Partiers Wouldn't Play the Politics Game (Also, They Stole Our Acronym) Sherry Phillips, vice president of the activist group Tea Party Nation, circulated a memo to its members last week. "TPN (Tea Party Nation) is against the formation of a third party political party," Phillips's letter reads, echoing a belief common among the Tea Party faithful that the movement belongs outside the political establishment. Don't be fooled by the Tea Party of Nevada's initials, Phillips warns: "TPN - Tea Party Nation is Trademarked."
  • Ashjian Might Be a Democratic Stooge It's been suggested that Ashjian's presence in the Senate race could split Nevada's conservative vote, thus throwing the election to Harry Reid, the embattled Democratic incumbent. In fact, Ashjian's candidacy represents such a potential boon to Reid that some Nevada Republicans have been promulgating the theory that Reid's behind the whole thing. Danny Tarkanian, a hopeful for the Republican Senate nomination, recently told CNN that "nobody in the Tea Party knows who [Ashjian] is" and that there's "no doubt" Reid set his campaign in motion. Both Tarkanian and Ashjian are Armenian-American, and Tarkanian later told reporters that the Democrats might have picked Ashjian as a spoiler because "they know the Armenians are very close; they'll vote for each other."
  • Or He Might Be a Republican Stooge The Examiner's Mark Anderson posits a different scenario: Ashjian was planted in the race by a Republican candidate looking to sponge Tea Party conservatives to one side before the primary. Anderson points a finger at GOP hopeful Sue Lowden, saying that if "Lowden runs away with a primary win and Jon Scott Ashjian 'disappears' after the primary date, that would be a fairly strong signal that the Tea Party of Nevada is an intraparty operation."