Politics

May 20, 2013

Tea party looks to take advantage of moment

Thomas Beaumont / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., chair of the Tea Party Caucus, center, speaks last week during a news conference with Tea Party leaders about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups on Capitol Hill.

AP

Tea party activists have tried to take advantage of the issues that have put some of their central tenets — limited government and civil liberties — in the spotlight.

From around the country last week, they headed Washington to hold a news conference on the Capitol steps and meet with members of Congress. Those who stayed home jammed House and Senate phone lines with calls urging congressional action as the IRS saga unfolded. An email from Teaparty.org that was sent to activists proclaimed: "We've worked so hard these past few years and it's paying off! We're witnessing the unraveling of a presidency at an unprecedented rate."

Freedomworks, a national tea party group, spent the week circulating petitions for congressional hearings and encouraging leaders of local groups who believe they have been targeted by the IRS to include their story on a national database to build the case against the agency.

"Perhaps all this attention will break something loose," said Jim Chiodo, an activist from Holland, Mich.

It wasn't long ago that the tea party was the hot new political kid on the block, bursting onto the national scene during the contentious summer debate over health care in 2009. Over the next few years, the loosely affiliated conservatives and civil libertarians would leave their mark on the 2010 elections by helping Republican candidates win Senate races in Florida, Kentucky, Utah and Wisconsin and scores of House races.

Those victories resulted in House and Senate Republican caucuses getting pushed to the right in legislative battles, making life difficult for Obama and his Democrats in an era of divided government.

But the movement's success was muted in 2012 when Republicans nominated the establishment-backed Mitt Romney for president, though he did little to inspire the tea party. He lost, and so did many tea party-backed House and Senate candidates.

Now, tea party activists say they are emboldened and won't be afraid to recruit candidates to run in Republican primaries against incumbents who appear to go easy on the Obama administration, particularly in light of the IRS scandal.

"It's one of those issues we should just raise hell about," said Nashville Tea Party leader Ben Cunningham.

Some say they're now even more suspicious of government than before.

"I personally feel so vindicated," said Mark Falzon, a New Jersey tea party leader. But he added: "What's scaring me now is what's going on below the water line that we're not seeing."

Republicans say that the tea party will have an opportunity come 2014 to make its mark again, particularly with Obama not at the top of the ticket. Also, they say that with Obama's health care law going into effect and with the slew of latest controversies, they now have concrete issues to point to when arguing against government overreach.

"Suddenly, this is a very real demonstration of too much power ceded to government bureaucrats," said Matt Kibbe, president of Freedomworks. "This is no longer theoretical."

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