Tea Party Targets Reid, Health Care Law in 'Showdown in Searchlight'

LAS VEGAS -- Fewer taxes, less government and no "Obamacare."

That's the message thousands of conservative Tea Party activists were hoping to send to Washington as they streamed into Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's hometown in Nevada Saturday morning.

"Harry Reid is symbolic of the problems in Washington in the sense that he's been the leader in the Senate of all the things we've been against -- expanding the government, increasing the deficit, and raising taxes," Sal Russo, chief strategist of the Tea Party Express, told FoxNews.com.

"He campaigned as a moderate but has moved so far to the left," Russo said of Reid. "Voters are tolerate of different views, but what they don't like is when someone campaigns one way and then governs by another."

The Tea Party Express, one of the most visible factions of the national Tea Party Movement, officially kicked off its cross-country, 42-city bus tour with Saturday's rally.

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Activists brought American flags, "Don't Tread on Me" signs and outspoken anger toward President Obama and his health care overhaul.

The activists' star, Sarah Palin, spoke to the rally Saturday from a makeshift stage in a patch of dusty desert about 60 miles north of Las Vegas.

Palin told them the big-government, big-debt spending spree of the Senate majority leader, Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is over.

"You're fired!" Palin said.

Organizers predict as many as 10,000 people could come to tiny Searchlight, the hardscrabble former mining town where the Senate Democratic leader grew up and owns a home. By midmorning, cars and recreational vehicles filled the area as people set up lawn chairs and braced against a stiff wind whipping up dust clouds and blowing dozens of flags straight out.

"We're not going to sit down and shut up. Thank you for standing up," Palin told the Tea Party rally.

The rally takes place just days after Obama signed into law the historic health care reform bill approved by Congress last weekend that ushered in near-universal medical coverage and left the nation deeply divided. The vote was followed by reports of threats and vandalism aimed at some Washington lawmakers, mostly Democrats who supported the new law.

Police don't expect problems at Saturday's rally, but the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is sending dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers to patrol the crowd.

The Tea Party Movement is a far-flung coalition of conservative groups angered by Washington spending, rising taxes and the growth and reach of government. It takes its name from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists dumped tea off English ships to protest what they considered unfair taxation by the British crown.

Now Tea Partiers are protesting Obama's health care overhaul.

"There's great frustration with that policies within the health care reform bill run counter to our view as to the proper role between government and the individual," Joe Wierzbicki, coordinator for the Tea Party Express, told FoxNews.com.

Ketha Verzani, 60, said she's a Republican, and came to the rally from her home in Las Vegas "to stand with those who want to clean house."

She opposes the health care bill and worries Americans are losing their rights, including parental rights and gun rights.

"It seems like every day more and more of our rights are being taken away," Verzani said, sporting a Palin 2012 button to show support for the former Alaska governor who "doesn't beat around the bush."

Palin, the 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, is scheduled to appear after spending Friday and Saturday morning campaigning for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who led the 2008 ticket. McCain is seeking re-election but faces a Republican primary challenge from the right by former congressman and radio talk show host JD Hayworth.

Now a Fox News analyst and potential 2012 presidential candidate, Palin faced criticism after posting a map on her Facebook page that had circles and cross hairs over 20 Democratic districts. She also sent a tweet saying, "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"

She said Friday she was alluding to votes, not guns.

A string of polls has shown Reid is vulnerable in politically moderate Nevada after pushing  Obama's agenda in Congress. His standing has also been hurt by Nevada's double-digit unemployment and record foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.

Saturday's rally kicks off a 42-city bus tour that ends in Washington on April 15, the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.

Reid supporters planned their own rally Saturday about a mile (1.6 kilometers) from the Tea Party event.

Luis Salvador, 55, an unemployed fire sprinkler fitter, drove up from Las Vegas to support Reid, who he said has done a lot for the state and doesn't deserve the protest brought to his hometown.

"You don't come to a man's house and start creating a ruckus," said Salvador, a registered independent. He and several others taped signs saying "Nevada Needs Harry Reid" to the side of a truck near the highway that runs through town.

Another Reid supporter, Judy Hill, 62, said she doesn't understand the hatred of Reid. The longtime Democrat from Searchlight, a town of about 1,000, said she thinks people just don't know the man she calls a friend.

"They listen to the rhetoric. I think he's very misunderstood and under-appreciated," she said

FoxNews.com's Cristina Corbin and The Associated Press contributed to this report.