Top Democratic leaders and Democrats in conservative districts are among the names the tea party movement hopes to defeat this year. At the last stop of its nationwide tour in Washington this morning, organizers of the Tea Party Express revealed their list of 2010 “Tea Party Targets,” a list that includes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Alan Grayson.

Others on the list include Democratic politicians representing relatively conservative states, including Reps. Betsy Markey (D-CO), Dina Titus (D-NV) and Gerry Connolly (D-VA).

The group also announced a list of Tea Party Heroes, which included tea party favorites like Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) as well as a single Democrat — Rep. Walt Minnick (D-ID). (link)

Like Erick, I’m not a huge fan of the various Tea Party organizations while at the same time I’m in awe of the energy of the people who are giving up valuable time to attend town hall meetings and demonstrations.

The decision by the Tea Party Express to endorse Democrat Walt Minnick in Idaho underlines the dilemma facing the various umbrella organizations for the local Tea Parties and why the interests of those organizations are, of necessity, inimical to the interests of the members of those groups.

The dilemma facing the Tea Party Express, along with other umbrella groups, is pretty simple: product differentiation and branding. If these groups are to continue to exist and have influence they must bring something to the table that is missing from the main political parties.  If these groups only endorse conservatives it means that by and large they will only be endorsing Republicans. If they only endorse Republicans they will be labeled as a subsidiary of the GOP. This presents the groups with a branding (you can’t be independent and grassroots if you are only endorsing one party’s candidates) and a fund raising (why donate to the Ladies Auxiliary when you can give to the main organization?) problem.

Minnick is a convenient beard for the Tea Party Express in this respect. It isn’t that Minnick is a really bad candidate because he’s widely disliked by Idaho Dems. In fact, at one time Minnick was a Republican and has described himself as “I’m not a Democrat … I’m an Independent seeking the Democratic nomination.” (So the description “political opportunist” should be in his bio somewhere in the interests of full disclosure.)

Were his statement a accurate reflection of his record, I’d really have few objections to an endorsement of Minnick as a benign marketing stunt. I’d still prefer a conservative and a GOP endorsement but I understand positioning and fundraising imperatives.

But it isn’t.

Minnick voted for a wide range of big government programs. As a sampler he voted to expand SCHIP. He voted to kill Jeff Flake’s resolution restricting earmarks. He voted to kill the resolution that would have removed Charlie Rangel from his committee chairmanship. He voted against the RSC blueprint to reduce the budget.

Moreover, Minnick’s first vote in Congress when elected in 2008 was for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. His first vote in the next Congress, if reelected, will be the same.

All of these votes belabor the obvious. Walt Minnick is a Democrat who votes in a Democrat way with the Democrat caucus.

When you compare Minnick’s record with the GOP candidates, Vaughn Ward and Raul Labrador, it becomes crystal clear who the conservatives and small government advocates are in this race.

The Tea Party Express has to know this and encouraging their members to support… and send money to…  a man who will vote for Pelosi as Speaker and big government programs should be unconscionable.

*I pinched my subtitle from nathanbenefield because he posted his diary as I was beginning this one and it seemed appropriate.