Energized Tea Party Meets In Nashville

Organizers of the Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn., announced Friday the formation of a political action committee that will raise money to influence a half-dozen congressional races this year. Those in attendance complained about President Obama and out-of-control government spending.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

The first ever National Tea Party Convention is under way in Nashville. Tomorrow Sarah Palin will speak. And today activists attended sessions meant to beef up their political organizing skills. Convention leaders also announced a new political action committee this afternoon. It will raise money to influence half a dozen upcoming congressional races. As for the big complaints of the convention, most seemed to begin with President Obama and end with out-of-control government spending.

NPRs Don Gonyea reports from Nashville.

DON GONYEA: Organizers of this convention see it as a historic moment - a sign that the Tea Party movement is taking its activism to a new level. The man behind the event is Nashville attorney Judson Phillips.

Mr. JUDSON PHILLIPS (Attorney): Fellow patriots.

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. PHILLIPS: Welcome to the first National Tea Party Convention.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GONYEA: There was instant camaraderie among Tea Party activists as they waited in line to pick up badges and registration materials. Seventy-year-old Suzanne Curran from Shenandoah County, Virginia says her first political activity was as a volunteer for the 1964 presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. Her mood today?

Ms. SUZANNE CURRAN (Activist): I have never been so afraid for the future of the United States of America in my entire life.

GONYEA: Curran sees President Obama as a threat to the Constitution and a threat to the America that she loves.

Ms. CURRAN: Why am I here? I want to meet people. These two ladies are from Virginia. I never laid eyes on them before. These two fine ladies, Massachusetts. We just helped them. Yes.

GONYEA: That cheer, of course, is over Republican Scott Browns election to the U.S. Senate seat long held by the late Ted Kennedy. The Tea Party was active in supporting Browns campaign. Convention delegates Donna Wright and Ellen Gilmore are from Georgia.

Ms. DONNA WRIGHT: We sent money to support Scott Brown.

Ms. ELLEN GILMORE: Scott Brown in Massachusetts.

Ms. WRIGHT: For his campaign.

Ms. GILMORE: And you have to admit that was quite an earthquake of an election up there.

GONYEA: Brown is hailed as a rising star. But ask people here about the fact that he calls himself pro-choice on abortion and youd get a response like this one from Debbie Dante(ph), North Carolina.

Ms. DEBBIE DANTE: You cant be nitpicky, I think, at this point, you know, about well, hes not pro-life so, you know, hes out of my field.

GONYEA: The term Tea Party has been identified with a kind of aggressive, confrontational activism. Remember those health care town halls from last year? But some here in Nashville take offense at that characterization. Joshua Crain is an assistant district attorney for the state of Tennessee.

Mr. JOSHUA CRAIN (Assistant District Attorney, Tennessee): Well, I think thats all in how you characterize the Tea Party. I dont necessarily see the Tea Party movement as an aggressive, go and just fight in a rally with people.

GONYEA: But others here have no problem with being part of a movement some call angry. William Temple(ph) is a retired government worker dressed in period clothing from the American Revolution.

Mr. WILLIAM TEMPLE: Oh, yes, its angry. And, you know, you always have the people today say, well, anger is not a good reason for anything. Oh, yes it is.

GONYEA: And that anger was visible at a reception last night where former Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo spoke. He is a fierce opponent of immigration and brought the crowd alive when he talked about President Obama.

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TOM TANCREDO: People who could not even spell the word "vote" or say it in English...

(Soundbite of applause)

Mr. TANCREDO: ...put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House. Name is Barack Hussein Obama.

(Soundbite of booing)

GONYEA: And even though some here at this first National Tea Party Convention have said that its time to do more than hold loud rallies and wave signs in order to influence politicians, that cheers for Tancredo's speech indicate that theres no sign yet that the movement is looking to mellow.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Nashville.

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