The Tea Party Takes Shape

The National Tea Party convention i i

Hundreds of attendees paid $549 a ticket for the three-day National Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn. Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
The National Tea Party convention

Hundreds of attendees paid $549 a ticket for the three-day National Tea Party convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images

The national Tea Party convention wraps up Saturday in Nashville, Tenn., with a keynote speech by a hero of the movement — former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.

Friday, the event's organizers announced the formation of a political action committee and a separate, nonprofit corporation to solicit donations to fund conservative candidates and causes.

About 600 activists paid the $549 registration fee to attend the first-ever national convention for a movement that sprang up almost exactly a year ago. For many, like William Temple, a retired government worker who came dressed in full Revolutionary costume, a chance to see Palin was a big draw.

"I love the lady who kills moose. She's the strongest man in the Republican Party, Sarah Palin. ... If I can get close enough, I'll give her a kiss," he said.

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance was convention organizer Judson Phillips, a Nashville lawyer who's been criticized by other Tea Party groups because this is a for-profit convention.

That controversy died down, but at a news conference he was asked if he supports remarks in a convention speech by former Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo, who called President Obama a committed socialist ideologue.

Phillips, who is new to this kind of attention, said Tancredo's speech was great. But he spoke carefully, embracing the substance, if not the red-hot tone.

"The word 'socialist' is a word you don't want to be labeled with in the American political system, and it's got a lot of negative connotations, but it also has a very specific political meaning," Phillips said. "It refers to a specific political ideology, and I think it's clear that is the political ideology of Barack Obama."

Also helping to organize this week's event is Memphis-based activist Mark Skoda. He told reporters the movement has to find new ways to expand its reach.

"Let us not be naive here," Skoda said. "The notion of holding up signs and simply responding with emotion does not get people elected."

Skoda announced the creation of two entities.

One is a nonprofit called the Ensuring Liberty Corp., which can take corporate donations but is not required to disclose them.

Skoda also said there will be a separate political action committee. He offered few details but implied that it's a way to create something that can help the movement without getting caught up in differences of opinion between various groups.

"While this is not the only way that the Tea Party movement can progress and mature, this is one way that we believe can seek the approach to counter the fragmentation that exists today," Skoda said.

It's still not entirely clear how setting up new outside organizations for fundraising addresses fragmentation. Also uncertain is the future of the movement itself. It is growing in size and influence, but whether it can hold together to have a lasting impact on the political landscape remains to be seen.

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