WASHINGTON (AP) -- In Kentucky, the Republican Senate candidate stumbles over a question on racial segregation. In Connecticut, the party's hopes rest on an executive who banked millions on female wrestlers in skimpy outfits. In Nevada, one contender wants to phase out Social Security and another suggests trading chickens for medical care.

Welcome to the 2010 battle for the Senate. It's midway through President Barack Obama's term, and high unemployment, an outbreak of anti-incumbent fever and political history are pointing to strong Republican gains in the fall. Yet to a degree unimaginable a few months ago, the party's fate is tied to conservatives with tea party support, scant or no political experience, and views or backgrounds that are largely unknown to statewide electorates.

"A tsunami of conservatism is coming in waves across our country," says Sharron Angle, a tea party-endorsed candidate in Nevada running for the nomination to oppose Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader. "My message is, this is what people want."

Democrats claim otherwise.

"The mainstream in their party is being expelled by the extreme," says Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, who heads the Democratic campaign committee. "That trend is hurting the Republicans."