- Associated Press - Sunday, July 4, 2010

YUCCA VALLEY, Calif. | Bill Warner is hardly a naive man.

He ran his own engineering firm for three decades, and sold the assets just before the economy tanked. He built his dream home on a majestic hill abutting a national park, back when the housing market was steady. While some neighbors have since been foreclosed upon, Mr. Warner is resurfacing his flagstone deck.

And so he understands that in the world of politics, his little group - the Lincoln Club of the Morongo Basin - is but a molecule in the figurative drop in the bucket of power and influence.

Its stated purpose is “to promote, educate and advance conservative principles of fiscal responsibility, small limited government, free enterprise, the rule of law, private property rights, and the preservation and protection of individual liberty.” The organization has some 25 members and has raised $10,000.

“It’s our way of doing what we can do,” he says.

Mr. Warner is 65 and soft-spoken, the kind who asks questions before making decisions. He doesn’t consider himself a rabble-rouser or “tea partier.”

Yet in March, Mr. Warner packed up his motor home and drove with his wife, Pat, to Searchlight, Nev., to join thousands of others at a tea party rally dubbed the Woodstock of conservatism.

There were, as his friend put it, some “wackadoos” among the masses: The Barrel Man wearing only a barrel and a hat, the guy dressed like Jesus.

There were also plenty of people just like Mr. Warner, who held a coffee mug instead of a sign.

Concerned Americans trying to find their voices, and a way to channel their disgust. For some, anger has now turned to action.

It is the kind of action that helped tea party favorite Sharron Angle capture the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate in Nevada, now challenging Majority Leader Harry Reid. And that helped tea party darlings Raul Labrador in Idaho and Todd Lally in Kentucky win their Republican congressional primaries. And that helped libertarian favorite Rand Paul beat out a Republican establishment candidate in Kentucky’s Senate primary.

In Bullhead City, Ariz., it comes in the form of an ex-PR agent who runs the Republican women’s club and holds candidate meet-and-greets to help get out the vote.

In Las Vegas, it’s an Internet marketer and his friend, the blogger, working from a rented condo to oust Mr. Reid and other incumbents.

These four were all in Searchlight that Saturday in March. They’ve heard, time and again, the characterizations in the news media, from some Democrats and, in certain cases, from their own friends and relatives - about how “those tea partiers” are just angry voters venting about economic hard times, or they’re confused, uneducated and easily influenced, or they’re extremists, or, worst of all, they’re racists.

Months after Searchlight and other rallies, plenty of questions remain about just what the tea party is, whether it can endure and how much influence it will have on elections this year and in years to come. Part of the answer is this: In communities across the land, citizens-turned-activists are digging in in different ways to wield whatever power and influence they’re able to muster over this thing called democracy.

To hear what motivates them is to begin to understand what’s going on in American politics in 2010.

Really, in America itself.

Her accent seems better suited for an episode of “The Real Housewives of New York City” than the Chaparral Country Club in Bullhead City. Yet here she is, Hildy Angius, holding court with three men who’ve just finished a round of golf in this retirement community.

Her hand is filled with fliers for a mixer sponsored by the Colorado River Republican Women, the organization she heads. “It’s more like a voter registration. A lot of elected people. It gives you a chance to go out and yell at them if you have any problems or questions,” she tells the golfers.

Turns out they have plenty they’d like to yell about. Says one: “Why are we in such dire straits?”

“Democrats!” his buddy exclaims. The first fires back: “How about debt?”

Spotting an opening, Ms. Angius launches into a speech: Don’t gripe, do something. Vote. Volunteer. Knock on doors. Do what she’s now doing: Whatever it takes to move the Republican Party, and the government, to the right.

Ms. Angius acknowledges she did little more than complain until September 2008, when she realized Barack Obama was likely to win the presidency, bringing to office a liberal agenda that would mean the kind of changes she vehemently opposes. That fall, she found the Colorado River Republican Women - and an outlet for her dismay. In January, she was elected president of the club. Soon after, she volunteered as a precinct committee person.

At 51 and retired, she now spends her days organizing events featuring Republican candidates, getting ready to go door to door to get voters to the polls for Arizona’s August primary and writing newsletters that help promote town-hall meetings, conservative initiatives and tea party protests. Besides Searchlight, she attended an earlier gathering in Washington, D.C.

But the tea party didn’t shape Ms. Angius; she’s not even a member of any local “chapters.” Her views developed long before, growing up on Long Island, the youngest of three children in, as she describes it, an upper-middle class Jewish - and politically conservative - home.

Her father, Ed Linn, was a writer who profiled everyone from baseball great Sandy Koufax to Jack Kennedy. He instilled in his daughter the core tenets of conservatism: hard work, self-reliance, small government and low taxes. He also taught her to stand up for her beliefs, a talent that came in handy for a girl who attended state university in Albany with mainly liberal friends, worked in Manhattan doing public relations and whose childhood chums, not to mention a lot of relatives, are mostly Democrats.

What finally pushed Ms. Angius to action was President Obama, and it infuriates her when some suggest race is somehow the motivation. For her, it comes down to the divergent ideologies of left vs. right, and a feeling that American conservatives have been marginalized for years.

Ask her to explain, and she talks about a feeling that something is just “wrong.”

“This is not the direction that the country is supposed to be going,” she said, citing financial bailouts, the stimulus bill, health care, immigration. “Things are changing at warp speed in a way that’s not going to be good.”

And so, she says, people are getting more involved.

She herself recently attended a Republican National Committee program in Phoenix that teaches advocates to get the party’s message out. It was called, “Say It Loud.”

Now, when folks around town ask her whom she plans to support in the GOP Senate primary on Aug. 24, she first explains that her views are her own (her club doesn’t endorse candidates) and then she tells them, in all likelihood, Sen. John McCain’s more conservative opponent, former Rep. J.D. Hayworth.

“I want McCain to lose for the symbolism,” said Ms. Angius. “He’s like the ring on the merry-go-round. If we can get that, the tea parties have won.”

This is how momentum - a “movement,” even - can grow. One person, on the ground, talking to others, inspiring action and influencing votes.

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