Tea Party Uses Searchlight To Find Its Way

The Tea Party has kicked off another national bus tour, this time near Searchlight, Nev., home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He faces a tough re-election bid, and those at the rally wanted to send a message: They will work to defeat Reid and the policies supported by his party.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The Tea Party Express kicked off its third cross-country caravan yesterday, not far from Searchlight, Nevada, the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. The event was billed as the Showdown in Searchlight, and Woodstock for Conservatives.

NPR's Ina Jaffe reports.

INA JAFFE: Woodstock, the original one, was all about peace, love and music. Well, there was plenty of music here, including rap. This is politics.

Unidentified Male #1: (Singing) The Tea Party's here, Tea Party here, Tea Party Movement got 'em running scared.

JAFFE: But the Woodstock peace and love part? None of that's still around - at least not for Democrats.

Ms. SARAH PALIN (Former Governor, Alaska): We're saying that the big government, big debt, Obama, Pelosi, Reid spending spree is over. You're fired.

(Soundbite of applause)

JAFFE: That was the real rock star of this event, Sarah Palin, the former Republican vice presidential candidate and current Fox News commentator. It's what drew about 7,000 Tea Party supporters from across Nevada and around the country to this barren stretch of rock-strewn ground.

Ms. PALIN: So proud to be with all of you who are so proud to be Americans. God bless you.

JAFFE: The crowd that greeted Palin did nothing to contradict the common description of Tea Party supporters as overwhelmingly white and mostly older. They braved the fierce wind that stiffened their American flags and made it hard to hold up the many homemade signs, like the one showing President Obama with the Soviet hammer and sickle, and one saying Commie Harry Reid Must Go.

Unlike the signs, though, the crowd was pretty mellow. Palin criticized the media for blaming Tea Partiers for recent threats of violence against Democrats. She also defended her own recent choice of words, telling conservatives after the passage of the health care bill not to retreat but to reload.

Ms. PALIN: That's not inciting violence. Whats that is doing is trying to inspire people to get involved in their local elections and these upcoming federal elections. It's telling people that their arms are their vote, its not inciting violence.

JAFFE: The Tea Party Express picked Harry Reid's hometown to kick off their cross-country tour, not just because they don't like him but because they smell blood in the water. After four terms in the Senate, Reid's approval ratings in many polls have fallen below 40 percent.

Art Brew(ph), who lives near Las Vegas, was perched on a chair on a rock-strewn hillside overlooking the stage. He held a simple sign: Goodbye Harry.

Mr. ART BREW: Well, what is there to like about Harry Reid. I mean, he's a traitor, really.

JAFFE: How so?

Mr. BREW: Well, he hates America really, he does.

JAFFE: And Chuck Ratliff came all the way from Houston, Texas to say that Harry Reid has a bad case of what he calls the D.C. virus.

Mr. CHUCK RATLIFF: He no longer cares about his constituents. He doesn't care about his country. He just wants to be in lockstep with the rest of the socialists up there - Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Hussein Obama.

JAFFE: Harry Reid was not in Searchlight while all this was going on, but he did issue a statement through his campaign office. It said in part: I'm happy so many people came to see my hometown of Searchlight and spend their out-of-state money. This election will be decided by Nevadans, not people from other states who parachuted in for one day to have a tea party.

Ina Jaffe, NPR News, near Searchlight, Nevada.

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