‘Tea party’ activists feel slighted by GOP

Just when the Republican Party appears poised for big pickups in the 2010 midterm elections, a ragtag band of grass-roots conservatives millions strong and fiercely motivated, but with no national leader, threatens to split the Grand Old Party in two.

Leading figures in the burgeoning “tea party” movement complain they are being ignored by the Republican National Committee, despite having already shown their clout in taking down moderate Republicans in a New York special House race and the Florida Republican Party hierarchy.

“I have called into the RNC many times, and they still haven’t called me back,” said Dale Robertson, head of TeaParty.org, which he claims has upwards of 7 million members. “I’ve called them, lots of times. I called them this morning. I called them yesterday. It’s like they ignore you as they try to figure out a strategy on how to defeat you.”

Several other tea party activists talked of a similar lack of communication, despite an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey last month that just 28 percent of voters had a positive view of Republicans, compared with 35 percent for Democrats and 41 percent who report positive feelings about the tea party movement.

“It’s important for Republicans to recognize they can only be a majority if they find a way to absorb the tea party movement and absorb the anger against Washington and against big government,” former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told The Washington Times. “That’s the only way the Republicans can prosper in the next few years.”

The author of the “Contract With America,” which gave Republicans control of Congress in the 1994 elections, has learned his lesson. He supported the liberal Republican candidate in November’s New York special congressional race, only to see the party pick knocked out of the race by a conservative third-party candidate with strong tea party support.

The split ended up costing Republicans the seat, with a Democrat winning narrowly in the upstate district for the first time in more than a century.

The recent resignation of Florida Republican state party Chairman Jim Greer was also seen as in part as a tea party victory. Mr. Greer was closely linked to moderate Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, who is locked in a tight Senate primary duel with conservative favorite Marco Rubio, the former speaker of the Florida House.

“Everywhere I go around the country, I talk with tea party leaders, and I think it’s absolutely imperative for Republicans and tea party people to find common ground,” Mr. Gingrich said.

In Massachusetts, state Sen. Scott Brown’s U.S. Senate bid highlights the strength a unified front poses even in Democratic strongholds. Both tea partiers and the Republican establishment are feverishly working to help Mr. Brown stun the political world by winning the Senate seat held for more than 4½ decades by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who died in August.

But tea party leaders say they want more than just talk. They want conservative candidates who oppose big government, higher taxes, illegal immigration and runaway federal spending — themes Mr. Brown has tapped to surge ahead of the Democratic establishment’s candidate in Tuesday’s special election, state Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“We’re not going to join them. They need to join us,” Mr. Robertson said.

“It’s time to take control,” conservative activist Eric Odom declared on the Web site of his political action committee, Liberty First PAC, which helped organize the first tea party protests last spring.

“We should take over the GOP,” said Matt Kibbe, president of the FreedomWorks, a group chaired by former House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey, Texas Republican.

FreedomWorks has helped organize many of the biggest tea party protests, but Mr. Kibbe said he thinks the RNC and its chairman, Michael S. Steele, are “working quite hard trying to figure out how to connect with this movement.”

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