Colorado Senate candidate Ken Buck and Florida Senate candidate Marco Rubio on Sunday said labeling candidates as "Tea Party" members is the only way political pundits can figure out how to make heads or tails of the growing popularity behind the organic movement.
The two Republican candidates said they are not running from the label, even if it's a misnomer.
"I don't think anybody can make that claim about themselves because, to do that, you'd have -- you'd have a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Tea Party movement is," Rubio said on CBS' "Face the Nation."
"I think the biggest mistake being made by those that follow politics is they're trying to understand what's happening across our country through a traditional political lens, you know, how you would view the Republican Party or the Democrat Party," Rubio said.
"Republicans are every bit as much to blame for where we are right now as Democrats, but we have to find some discipline from outside of Washington, D.C., and impose it on our Congress and executive branch," said Buck, who appeared separately on the same show as Rubio.
Buck said he is among a group of candidates elected to run for office by voters frustrated with Washington, D.C.
"I think there are similarities, there are some difference across the country," he said. Among the similarities, Buck said, is a "firm belief that the Constitution should govern our role in Washington, D.C."
In addition, he said, none of the candidates elected to run against Washington's business-as-usual approach want to become part of the establishment. What they prefer instead, Buck said, is reduce spending, promote a balanced budget amendment and limit their time in Washington.
"I think the widespread sentiment is that we don't want to change America; we want to fix the things that are wrong in America, and the Tea Party movement is an expression of that sentiment," Rubio added.
But that approach has Buck and Rubio defending policy positions they say have been twisted by their opponents during this campaign season.
For instance, Buck, who is running against appointed Sen. Michael Bennet for the seat previously held by now-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, said he does not want to flat-out privatize veterans hospitals, nor does he want to limit access to traditional birth control.
"There was a state amendment on personhood. I have said that I am in favor of personhood as a concept," Buck said, referring to Amendment 62 on the Colorado ballot that would grant citizenship rights to Americans at the "beginning of biological development."
Critics of the amendment say it could block some forms of birth control and fertility treatments, not just abortion.
"I have said over and over again, and it has been reported over and over again, that I am not in favor of banning any common forms of birth control in Colorado or in the United States," Buck said.
As for veterans hospitals, Buck said if the government could get improved quality and care for veterans by "outsourcing" some of its functions like running a Veterans Administration hospital, he would support that.
"I think that we'd have to look at the cost. And the cost can't come out of the veterans' pockets. The cost would have to come out of the government if there was a cost involved in that outsourcing," Buck said. "But I think that the private sector runs operations like hospitals and other operations better than the government."
As for Social Security, Rubio said he does not want to privatize it nor has it outlived its usefulness. But the Florida Republican Party candidate who's running in a three-way race against now-independent Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek said the system has to change so that future beneficiaries are not left out in the cold.
"We want to keep it how it is for current beneficiaries because these are folks that have paid into the system, given certain assurances of what the system is going to look like," Rubio said. "Younger workers like myself, people 39 years of age like I am -- we're going to have to accept that there's going to be some changes to Social Security."
Rubio suggested changing the way benefits are indexed or allowing the retirement age to fluctuate as possible alterations to prevent Social Security from going bankrupt.
"But again, that's for younger workers like myself who have 20 or 30 years to prepare for this. People that are on the system now, or let's say 10 years from retirement or 12 years from retirement, these folks can't all of a sudden make a change to adjust for it."
Rubio, who's running an average 10.6 points above his competitors, according to RealClearPolitics, added that attacks on his personal budget management demonstrate the desperation of his political foes.
"You know what they call debt? A mortgage. ... The vast majority of Americans watching this program would be shocked to learn that buying a home with a mortgage is somehow irresponsible," Rubio said.
Sal Russo, founder of the Tea Party Express, said his movement is "laser-focused" on the economy, which explains why economically conservative candidates are labeled as "Tea Party" candidates.
"We've turned the political system on its head. And what's done that is that millions of Americans, who, many of them, had been sitting out the political process, have gotten involved in the campaigns," Russo said, also appearing on "Face the Nation."
"What people want to do is send a message to Washington that we have to get off this fiscal insanity merry-go-round."
Russo said that independence is a trait that also characterizes those who would be labeled "Tea Party" candidates. He argued that Ronald Reagan would've lived up to that definition.
"It reminds me back of, you know, the 1980 campaign, when, as you know, the Carter White House was rejoicing that they got Ronald Reagan, who would be so easy to beat," Russo said, arguing that many establishment Republicans supported independent John Anderson as the key to defeating Carter.
"Not only did Reagan win a majority against Carter and Anderson, but we elected 12 new Republican senators, and those 12 senators provided crucial votes for the Reagan economic policies for the next six years," he said.