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Tea party is not dead, says GOP strategist

Some of the principles that lead to the creation of the tea party are "still very important" to the Republican party heading into the midterm elections next year, GOP strategist Chip Saltsman told CNBC on Tuesday.

"The tea party I don't think is dead," the former Mike Huckabee campaign manager said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "If we're going to be successful, we need to represent less government, lower taxes, less regulations."

Under that mandate, Republicans have been trying unsuccessfully to repeal or defund or delay Obamacare ever since 2010. The party took a beating over the October government shutdown and debt limit fight—both of which played out with conservatives demanding concessions on the health-care law that President Barack Obama would most likely spurn.

But with the botched launch of the individual mandate provision and the millions of canceled policies because of the law's coverage requirements, the GOP sees an opportunity for a "we-told-you-so-moment."

Tea Party activists cheer during the 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally, on Capitol Hill.
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Tea Party activists cheer during the 'Exempt America from Obamacare' rally, on Capitol Hill.

"Republicans are going to run on Obamacare because of what it's doing to the economy, … because of the terrible rollout," Saltsman said.

(Read more: Obamacare enrollment hits 2 million, 3 months to go)

Democratic strategist Steve McMahon countered by saying if Republicans want to make the November elections about the president's health-care law, bring it on.

"They want to make the next election a referendum on Obamacare. The challenge, of course, is that the last election was a referendum on Obamacare and the Democrats won."

McMahon—who advises Democratic candidates all across the nation—acknowledged the problems with the launch, but said: "If those get improved, I think it's going to be problematic for Republicans because they don't seem to have a 'Plan B.'"

Saltsman said Democrats are going to run on it, too, "and I hope we're seeing that."

(Read more: Truth about Obamacare? Mandate wasn't needed: Dean)

In response, McMahon told Saltsman sarcastically, "You're right about one thing, 'Democrats are stuck with Obamacare.'"

"But here's what's going to happen over the course of the year," he said. "People are going to go to the doctor and when they leave the doctor for preventive care, they're going to get no bill. It's going to be free."

McMahon added that "increasingly people are going to say, 'Hmmm, this is a much better program than what the Republicans have been saying.'"

The 2014 midterm races will be a referendum on Obamacare, just like in the 2012 presidential election, he concluded—saying he doesn't think Republicans will be any more successful in fighting it again.

By CNBC's Matthew J. Belvedere. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_SquawkCNBC.

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