MERRILLVILLE | The latest Republican challenger to U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky is riding the Tea Party's disdain for career politicians into another unlikely victory this year.

"I think it's an exciting time to be here in Indiana. Indiana in a lot of ways is ground zero for the 2012 elections," Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of FreedomWorks for America, said Monday prior to speaking at a fundraiser for Joel Phelps at Innsbrook Country Club.

"Grass-root activists on the ground are winning races professionals said we couldn't win. You saw that in the fight between (Richard) Mourdock and (Dick) Lugar. To me that's exciting because that puts more power in the hands of voters, and I think that network of activists is very much alive and looking for a fight," Kibbe said.

FreedomWorks is a Washington, D.C.-based political action committee focusing the Tea Party movement's energy into campaigns to defeat moderate Republicans as well as Democrats for the overall goals of less government. It is expected to raise millions of dollars this year to defeat President Barack Obama and put conservatives in control of both houses of Congress.

It helped mobilize the vote that ousted Lugar, the longtime U.S. Senator, in the May Republican primary and gave the victory to Mourdock, the state treasurer.

Phelps is hoping for a similar upset in the Nov. 6 general election of Visclosky, who has trounced 24 opponents in both parties and captured an average of 64 percent of the vote since his first election in 1984.

Phelps said the job is daunting but "I would challenge the premise that this year is any tougher than before. We believe he's been in there too long. The people in Northwest Indiana understand it's time for somebody new."

Kibbe said Visclosky's money, incumbency and name recognition don't matter as much than in the past.

"The power of this activist-driven movement is that it's not Republican or Democrat. It's driven by concern that government has gotten too big and there is too much Washington keeping us from economic recovery. There are a lot of disappointed Democrats with buyer's remorse," Kibbe said.

Kibbe said FreedomWorks trains Tea Party members in the basics of getting out the vote.

"Our whole philosophy is we are a service center. We help activists take their country back. We helped organize rallies, provide training, walking maps, door hangers ... the nuts and bolts of shoe-leather politics," Kibbe said.

Phelps said, "How I get elected is grass roots at its finest. It's going to be door to door, fairs and churches. This is Indiana's moment. We have access to water ports, rail spurs, the most favorable economic conditions as compared to our neighboring states in decades thanks to Mitch Daniels. We need to get back to our roots and as an industrial engineer. I know how to do it."

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Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.