Republicans in North Dakota are planning one of the party's first organized efforts to capture some of the energy and enthusiasm of the "tea party" movement, an experiment that nervous party officials around the country will be watching with hopeful anticipation.
North Dakota Republican Chairman Gary Emineth is one of the organizers of what is being billed as a "Take Back Washington" rally and town hall meeting on Feb. 12 in Bismarck, N.D., with Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, an outspoken conservative, as the keynote speaker.
"The role the tea party could play in the future of the Republican Party is significant and critical," Mr. Emineth said. "It is how we speak and reach out to the tea party activists that speaks volumes to the movement. The 'Take Back Washington' event is designed to have the Republican Party leadership and elected officials listen to activists within this movement."
Word of the event comes as a separate gathering billed as the first national "convention" of the tea party movement kicks off this weekend in Nashville, Tenn. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin will be the featured speaker, but Mrs. Bachmann and other prominent conservatives have pulled out, citing the for-profit status of the organizers and the hefty fee being charged to attendees.
Mrs. Bachmann will not be paid for her remarks at the North Dakota event.
The tea party movement's growing clout was on display in Honolulu last week when movement organizer and Freedom Works President Dick Armey was invited to the winter gathering of the Republican National Committee, meeting first with the RNC's conservative caucus and then attending a reception with RNC National Chairman Michael S. Steele.
Mr. Steele has billed himself as a tea partier, but many in the anti-government movement say they are wary of both parties and fear too close an identification with Republicans.
"The balancing act we must play as a party is not to alienate our party base, while bringing in new constituents who are with us on the majority of the issues," Mr. Emineth told The Washington Times. "Our event could potentially be a format to begin to bridge the groups."
North Dakota's Democrats are also taking the tea party movement seriously - both as a threat at the ballot box and as a means to scare party donors into contributing more cash.
North Dakota Democratic Party Chairman Mark Schneider, in a recent fund-raising letter, warned of "out-of-state big insurance and big business interests" coming into the state to "try to tell us how to run" things and helping to "spur the tea party movement."
Mr. Schneider says the "Take Back Washington" event featuring Mrs. Bachmann "takes the cake," because the North Dakota GOP "is falling for her right-wing bent and self-promoting agenda, but we see right through it."
Lacking a central organization, a single platform or even a membership list, it's not always easy to identify the priorities of the tea party partisans, but North Dakota lawyer Robert Harms insisted that "absolutely, they are a movement."
Mr. Harms, who has served as general counsel to two of the state's Republican governors, said that about half the 10,000 or so North Dakotans that he estimates are tea party activists regard themselves as neither Republicans nor Democrats, with the rest evenly split in identifying themselves as belonging to one or the other party.
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