OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City cabinet maker Al Gerhart never became involved in politics more than an occasional trip to the voting booth.

But a boom in federal spending, a growing national debt and his perception that politicians didn’t seem to listen to a regular guy like him was enough to tick him off.

Gerhart attended a Tea Party rally at the state Capitol in April and found several thousand exasperated Oklahomans who were thinking the same thing. But whether the dozens of groups that sprung out of the Tea Party movement can continue the momentum they had on tax day and become a force in the 2010 elections and beyond remains to be seen.

“I really don’t even enjoy politics,” Gerhart said. “But I looked at the direction of the country and the economy and told myself if I don’t get involved, I’m not going to have any middle class customers left.”

Gerhart has now founded the Oklahoma Constitutional Alliance, an umbrella group that seeks to channel the anger, frustration and energy of more than two dozen organizations into one unified voice.

“Eighty percent of what we’re concerned about, we all agree upon,” Gerhart said. “The other 20 percent we just set aside.”

“From what I’m seeing from the grass roots, there’s going to be an earthquake come first of November this year.”

A longtime registered independent, Gerhart switched his voter registration to Republican, and while he maintains he and others are more concerned with ideology than political persuasion, it’s clear the group’s impact will be most clearly felt within the GOP.

“What’s going to have to happen is that they’ll have to pick a party to influence, and that’s the Republicans,” said Keith Gaddie, a professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma.

Populist movements have deep roots in Oklahoma, but in order to bring about serious change, the Tea Party groups must show they can influence elections before they’re taken too seriously.

Gaddie said a great litmus test for the movement’s power in Oklahoma would be the GOP primary race for governor. State Sen. Randy Brogdon, R-Owasso, a fiscal conservative who opposed the state receiving federal stimulus money and bemoans the federal government’s encroaching on state’s rights, faces U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, a well-known, pro-business Republican who has raised more than seven times as much money as Brogdon.

“Even though Randy Brogdon has never introduced himself as a Tea Party candidate, he fits,” Gaddie said. “If his numbers go up, that’s a great indication of his support within the GOP.

Even if Brogdon and other GOP candidates supported by the Tea Party movement don’t win, they still can have an impact on races, possibly even to the benefit of Democrats.

“They could so bloody nominees that it could throw certain contests in doubt,” Gaddie said. “All of a sudden the gubernatorial race could get interesting.”

Gary Jones, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said the movement is being taken seriously, and that it would be a mistake for Republican politicians to take their support for granted.

“They’re mad, but they’re not just mad at the Democrats,” Jones said. “That’s the clear message I tell people — if you think they’re automatically going to be in our column because they’re mad, you’re absolutely wrong.

“We better be addressing their concerns, or they’re going to go somewhere else.”

If the Tea Party influence inside the GOP continues to pull candidates further to the right, Democrats could draw some moderate Republican voters, said Karina Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Democratic Party.

“The Republican Party in our state has spent the last several years moving very far to the right, and I see that trend continuing,” Henderson said. “I think we can capitalize on that to an extent.”

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