But the conservative upstart is determined to shed its amateur status. To that end, members are literally going to school. They are taking part in training sessions, some of which are underwritten by established conservative groups like American Majority, the Leadership Institute and Americans for Prosperity.

Indeed, an up-close look at the Tea Party in 15 states over a three-month period during this summer’s political primaries showed a group striving to make the transition from unruly protesters to effective activists. Their near term goal is to gain a foothold at the most basic levels of government — from city councils to state assemblies.

If they succeed, say political analysts, they could be a significant factor well beyond the November 2 midterm elections and could help shape the 2012 presidential race…

“We have to acknowledge what happens to people, even the ones we like, when they get to Washington,” Romm told 18 Tea Party activists gathered in a hotel conference room here in Hannibal on the banks of the mighty Mississippi. “It shows why we must hold them accountable. It’s also why you don’t get to go on vacation on November 3. Because on November 3, you start holding politicians accountable.”