The National Tea Party Convention kicked off Thursday inside the sprawling hotel oasis known as the Gaylord Opryland in Nashville. The gathering of activists in the conservative tea party movement will culminate Saturday evening with a speech by Sarah Palin.
In a bid to advance the tea party movement from holding rallies to holding office, the leaders of the anti-establishment groups announced a new political organization Friday that they say will "endorse, support and elect" conservatives across the country.
Mark Skoda, chairman of The Memphis TEA Party, made the announcement at a news conference in the middle of the National Tea Party Convention in Nashville. Though he said the group -- Ensuring Liberty Corporation and an affiliated political action committee -- is "distinct and separate" from other parts of the tea party movement, including convention organizer Tea Party Nation, the announcement was the closest thing so far to a national organizing strategy for the upcoming 2010 midterm elections.
"Let us not be naive here. The notion of us holding up signs ... does not get people elected," said Skoda, who is poised to become president of the new group. Skoda said the organization would take in small donations as well as corporate donations.
According to a written statement, the group would work to build a "sustainable coalition of elected officials" on the national level and in state and local races that might not be getting the attention of the Republican Party establishment.
The announcement came with an official platform that could help define what the multi-faceted tea party movement stands for and expects from the candidates it supports. The group's leaders plan to support candidates who stand for a set of "First Principles."
Those principles are: fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, less government, states' rights and national security.
Prospective political candidates will be expected to support the Republican National Committee platform. If a particular candidate meets the proposed criteria he or she would be eligible for fundraising and grassroots support.
Once elected to office, members would be expected to join a congressional caucus of "like-minded representatives" who attend regular meetings and are held accountable for the votes they cast. Those who stray from the tea party path would risk losing the new organization's support and a possible re-election challenge.