Published January 25, 2010
Eyeing the success of Moveon.org and other grassroots groups, the conservative-minded FreedomWorks, which has been at the frontline organizing tea partiers into a half-million strong membership, has announced ambitious plans on the fundraising front.
"(MoveOn) raised around $31 million in 2003. We're not sure we can raise that much, but think we can be in the multi-millions and be a major player in 2010," said Rob Jordan, FreedomWorks' vice president of federal and state campaigns.
On Monday, FreedomWorks brought together dozens of conservative activists from as far away as California, Arkansas, Ohio and Florida and put them in a room full of reporters, hoping to let the grassroots speak to the Washington establishment through the press.
"It's hot in Florida, Charlie Crist is on the run," said Thomas Gaiten, a Florida field coordinator for Freedom Works, who opposes the Florida governor's bid for the U.S. Senate seat.
"I'm arranging an event on February 10 for the one year anniversary of 'the stimulus hug,'" Gaiten said, referring to a hug between President Obama and Crist last year. Crist was an exuberant host and endorsed the president's $787 billion stimulus package, for which Crist is now under fire.
"The hug" is a moment that conservatives have flogged in Florida. A few months ago Crist was leading his Republican primary competitor, former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio, by 30 points. But the tea party movement in Florida has been aggressively organizing for Rubio both on the ground and on the Web and the latest polls show the two neck-and-neck.
Meanwhile in Arkansas, tea partiers are confident of ousting embattled Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, who had wavered on the health care bill before supporting it in votes taken before Christmas
Lincoln "is out," said Rob Porto of Little Rock. "The only question is who is going to replace her, and we're still vetting prospective Republican candidates. We're planning a number of debates."
Greg Fettig drove the 600 miles from his native Indiana to give notice to incumbents that just because they are safe, they should be looking over their shoulder.
"I used to think I was alone, now I know there are others out there who want to stand up for fiscal conservatism," he said.
Fettig, who co-founded a group called "Hoosier Patriots," lives in the district of longtime Republican Rep. Dan Burton, but said he thinks it's time for Burton to go.
"He's got no fire. ... He's been there too long, people should just serve a term or two and then get out," he said.
The conservative, organic grassroots uprising is proving to be quite powerful, with Republicans all over the country scrambling to get in front of it, but the question remains whether the Republican Party will be able to harness it.
A National Tea Party Convention is scheduled for Nashville, Tenn., in early February with former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, a darling of the movement, as one of the featured speakers.
Tea party organizers admit they are a scattered and loose knit group despite efforts by established organizations like FreedomWorks doing the lifting.
Joking that the task of organizing is kind of like "herding cats," the activists are so anti-establishment they don't even like the idea that their own organization is having a convention and charging money for people to attend.
"I like Sarah Palin," said Scott Boston of the Bowling Green Ohio Tea Party Patriots.
"But I'm not going to spend $600 on a ticket. Tea party meetings are free. I have a feeling that the convention in Nashville is going to be about people who want to lead our parade but wouldn't be willing to march in it," Boston said.