Eager to dispel the notion that their protest movement is a mere flash in the pan, the nation's tea party activists are preparing to welcome the newest crop of lawmakers to Washington by reminding them of the consequences if they walk away from their campaign promises.
One tea party group has issued a call for supporters to greet new members of Congress as they are officially sworn in Wednesday, and similar scenarios are expected to play out in states across the nation. Tea party organizers say they plan to become watchdogs inside state capitals while continuing the grass-roots push to generate political support to cut spending and roll back federal overreach.
"We are watching, and we are going to hold them accountable, and it is not too early to start making our target list for 2012," said Amy Kremer, grass-roots director for Tea Party Express, which is focused on the federal government.
"People are definitely thinking long term," said Jamie Radtke, the head of the Virginia Federation of Tea Party Patriots, who has announced plans to run next year for the seat held by freshman Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat.
Tea party-backed candidates secured dozens of victories in the November elections, helping Republicans seize control of the House of Representatives and gain a half-dozen seats in the Senate. They also helped the GOP take the reins in at least 20 state legislatures, in many cases giving the party control of the redistricting process.
But in recent weeks, as political focus has shifted from the rhetoric of the campaign trail to the realities of governing, some prognosticators have pondered whether the tea party's political passion will tail off.
Tea partyers brush off the idea.
They say the movement's strength is growing, with their postelection power on display during the lame-duck session in the defeat of Senate Democrats' proposed $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill. GOP leaders also got nearly every member of their party to agree to a temporary ban on congressional earmarks, a symbol of wasteful Washington spending and a major rallying cause for tea party voters.
The tea party influence was clear this week as the five candidates for chairman of the Republican National Committee appealed for the movement's support in a forum at the National Press Club.
"Let us not forget the tea party, patriot and grass-roots movement is why we had such victories in 2010. It absolutely is, ladies and gentlemen, and we can't forget it," said Ann Wagner, a former ambassador to Luxembourg and former chairwoman of Missouri Republican Party.
Now the tea partyers are pushing the people they propelled into office to fight for the repeal of President Obama's health care overhaul, to reduce federal spending and to cut the national debt, which just surpassed $14 trillion.
Ms. Kremer said tea party supporters should do whatever they can to stop Congress from increasing the nation's debt ceiling, which White House officials insist must happen for the government to avoid falling into default on its obligations.
Other tea party leaders say they're working to establish a stronger foothold at the state level by holding rallies and lobbying lawmakers to curb spending.
"All West Virginia tea party groups will unite to greet newly elected officials and send a message to the legislators that the movement is here, is informed, and will hold them accountable for their words, their promises and their actions," said Dee Armstrong, a tea party activist in West Virginia who is helping to organize a rally to greet state lawmakers in Charleston on the Jan. 12 opening day of their legislative session.
Ms. Armstrong said hundreds are expected to attend and that some will be adorned in winter scarves bearing the "Don't Tread On Me" tea party slogan.
Not deterred by their failure in November to capture the seat of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia tea party leaders say that at least one member from its various local branches will sit in the visitors gallery each day of the legislative session.
"We want to show that from all across the state of West Virginia there is somebody there, and they are listening and they are taking notes," Ms. Armstrong said.
In Texas, Dick Armey, FreedomWorks co-founder and former House majority leader, has linked with local tea party groups to pressure state lawmakers in Austin to tap a conservative for speaker of the House.
"You name it, we are doing all the kind of grass-roots activity we can do," saidBrendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns for FreedomWorks. "There is a ton of activity in the states on taxes, spending, health care, property rights and school choice."
"This movement was never just an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent movement. It was always about ideas, and that was a thing a lot of people failed to realize, especially the Democrats," Mr. Steinhauser said. "This movement was about limited government, fiscal responsibility. So, to the extent that these guys follow through on that basic promise, they will be rewarded."
Similar ideas are flowing in Virginia, where supporters are calling on lawmakers to eliminate the state income tax and to adopt an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would hand states the power to repeal any federal law or regulation. Tea party supporters also started a political action committee ahead of state General Assembly elections later this year.
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