Tea Party Convention Hits Climax With Palin Speech

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NPR's Don Gonyea talks about the latest from the convention in Nashville.

GUY RAZ, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

Populist movements, when successful, can make or break elections. Many credit Ross Perot's insurgent campaign in 1992 with Bill Clinton's victory that year over President George H.W. Bush. This time around, it's the Tea Party movement. Those who identify with it say it's not a political party and shouldn't become one, but it does want to have influence.

We begin the hour with a look at the Tea Party and at previous attempts to channel rage into political action. About 600 people are meeting in Nashville this weekend to figure out which direction to take the Tea Party movement.

Here's Judson Phillips, he's the organizer of the convention, earlier today.

Mr. JUDSON PHILLIPS (Convention organizer, Tea Party movement): How many of you all before this Tea Party movement got started were never involved in politics? Show of hands. I look around. If I had to have to guess, I would say 90 percent of the people in this room have held up their hands and that is amazing. This is going to freak you all out. I'm going to say this: Thank you, Barack Obama.

(Soundbite of laughter and applause)

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Politician; author and political commentator): This is a silver lining.

RAZ: Tonight, former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin addresses the convention.

NPR's Don Gonyea is in Nashville. And Don, there's no clear leader of the Tea Party movement. Is Sarah Palin positioning herself to carry that mantle?

DON GONYEA: I don't know that she'd call herself the leader, but she certainly sees this as her base. She has endorsed Tea Party candidates in some races. She is riding the wave of energy and enthusiasm that you definitely see in the Tea Party movement. And I can tell you, if they were to hold a straw poll here, she would win by a wide margin. If you ask people who they would like to see in the White House to replace Barack Obama, they're not even going to have that straw poll because it's hard to see who else would get votes other than Sarah Palin.

She praises this group. She calls them true Americans, true patriots. And she is going to receive a rousing welcome, it's safe to predict tonight.

RAZ: Don, how is the Tea Party movement plan to influence the outcome of congressional races this November?

GONYEA: This is one of the things we're seeing happen at this convention. Again, this is the first national Tea Party convention, but it has not been sanctioned by all Tea Party groups. In fact, there's been a good bit of controversy within the Tea Party movement because of the high registration fees and the fact that this is an - for profit event. But the leaders of this convention are saying it is time to get beyond shouting slogans and waving placards. And those of us who've been covering this movement know that they're often very angry slogans and angry placards and signs that they wave.

They have formed here separate from the convention, a political action committee and a nonprofit corporation, a 501(c)(4). They hope to raise money that they say they're going to channel into congressional races around the country. They have identified about 10 of them so far where they see opportunities for their kind of conservative candidates.

RAZ: Now Don, many Tea Party groups insist that they dislike both political parties equally. But they seem to be going after Republican candidates with more ferocity than against Democratic candidates.

GONYEA: That's correct. And that's not to say that they're being harder on Republicans than they are Democrats. Even though they say they are not affiliated with any party, they see opportunities in pushing Republicans. They want to make sure there are very conservative Republican candidates who would even challenge incumbents in primaries around the country, and that's how they really hope to make their influence felt.

RAZ: That's NPR's Don Gonyea at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville.

Don, thanks.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure.

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