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Dispatches: Northern Virginia's Tea Party Eyes 2011

After wielding influence in 2010, members hope message spreads.

One in a on the state of the American Dream.

As a national movement, the Tea Party has had wielded power over the debt-ceiling debate and helped propel Michele Bachmann's presidential bid.

At the local level, the Tea Party's function has been mixed: Jamie Radtke's U.S. Senate bid is fueled in part by her Tea Party connections, but the movement came up short trying to give . Still, the movement is trying to shape public policy.

“I think what you are seeing is a transformation of the Tea Party away from protest action (going) towards legislative and voter action, putting our candidates in place where they can make a difference, and I think our results show that,” said John Jaggers, Northern Virginia Tea Party director of operations.

Most Tea Party members are citizens concerned with keeping their legislators accountable. Tea Party candidates are not career politicians but rather people with backgrounds in business, Jaggers said.

According to the 2010 Pew Center exit polls, 41 percent of the electorate was Tea Party supporters and 86 percent of them voted for Republican House candidates.

Though members lean Republican, the head of the Virginia Democratic Party, Brian Moran, approached the local Tea Party and showed he was “very sensitive to Tea Party issues,” said Daniel Cortez, a Prince William County Tea Party member. Cortez is in the process of reaching out to Moran’s Republican counterpart.

“We are not a part of the Republican Party. We have conservative values. … I will have no problem supporting a Democrat that shows that they have the principles of the Tea Party at heart,” Cortez said. “The Tea Party is a movement. It's an ideology. We are not a political party per se. If we ever become one, I think we are going to fail.”

But the Tea Party will likely have trouble succeeding in Northern Virginia, which has more moderate politics because of its proximity to Washington, D.C., said Stephen Farnsworth, a George Mason University communications professor. The region has lots of federal employees who object to the Tea Party's limited government stances. Keith Fimian's failure in defeating Connolly — in a year when 21 Democrats were unseated — might be a case in point.

Still, Democrat-heavy Arlington County is one stop on former Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell's book tour. .

To Cortez, Connolly's near-defeat sent a signal that the Tea Party was legitimate.

"It's a work in progress," Cortez said. "It's a movement, not a political party. ... It is a movement of passion to go back to Constitutional principles."

As the movement, the Tea Party pushes the Republican Party to the right, and it leaves the Democratic Party unsure of what to do, Farnsworth said.

“Trying to argue that the Tea Party movement is more extreme didn’t generate much support for the Democrats in 2010 but in 2012, that same argument might have more traction,” Farnsworth said.

This year's Virginia elections could be good for the Tea Party, he said, because turnout is likely to be low.

“The Tea Party movement seems to be most effective when the turnout is relatively small, when those frustrated and angry voters are in greater share of the electorates in comparison to the electorates in a presidential election,” Farnsworth said.

The test of the Tea Party’s lasting power will be the 2012 presidential election when more casual voters will turn out to vote, he said.

Carol Lewis August 18, 2011 at 04:11 PM
I hope the Tea Party candidates temper their passion with compassion for those less fortunate, and that they learn that compromise is a better route than just saying no all the time.
Tom Lipscomb August 19, 2011 at 04:40 PM
A couple years ago I thought the Tea Party was good for our country and even supported some Tea Party candidates. Nevertheless I now view the Tea Party as too extreme, for example “No Compromise” is a typical attribute of an extremist group, and Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism now followed by many Tea Party members which is a contradiction of the teachings of Jesus. Ideology is dangerous because it enables people to believe they are doing the correct action without realizing the implications. I have friends that are Tea Party members and respect them all. That said, I know they are being manipulated by various Right Wing sources, and I find that rather troubling. Here is a good example topic, Net Neutrality. All Tea Party members I talked with about Net Neutrality had a negative opinion about it, but didn’t know any details of what Net Neutrality is … all they knew was what they had heard from Jamie Radtke and other Tea Party leaders, her reasons for opposing Net Neutrality were laughable.
Daniel P. Cortez August 22, 2011 at 11:59 AM
Tom I want to thank you for your comments and I respect your opinion...But know that many many in the movement are not "lap dogs" and simply follow those with no credentials who saw which way the movement was heading and said "follow me!," with ideological extremism. We do think on our own and won't just vote a candidate in on a wish and a prayer......I hope we look for genuine credentials. That is why so, so many conservatives and those who indentify with the movement are supporting George Allen for U.S. Senate. I respect the movement in principle...but there are many who suggest they are leaders who we just don't follow. But what is it called....freedom of speach?

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