WASHINGTON -- Tea party activists streamed into the capital they love to hate on Thursday, carrying signs that read "Don't Tread on Me" and "Follow the Constitution" as they marked tax day — April 15.
On a sun-splashed morning and serenaded by patriotic songs, the protesters gathered as Washington's Freedom Plaza for an 11 a.m. rally. Several wore T-shirts with the date "April 15" and some carried American flags, the Associated Press reported.
The Tea Party Express cross-country tour was wrapping up in Washington. Local events are also planned in Oklahoma, Ohio, Wisconsin, and other states.
Tea party protesters opened their tour nearly three weeks ago with a Nevada rally that drew at least 9,000 and heard from one of the few politicians the conservative, anti-tax movement embraces: Sarah Palin.
Palin also starred at a tea party gathering of 5,000 on Wednesday in Boston but is not scheduled at the finale. Radio host Neal Boortz is among the listed speakers.
But Republican congressional leaders weren’t invited.
Those omitted include Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl of Arizona, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, and House Minority Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.
Officials of Freedom Works, the group organizing the event, say the leaders are still in the doghouse for backing the bank bailout in 2008.
“What [tea party activists] are saying to the officeholders and office seekers is, ‘Earn your spurs and you can get on our stage.’ There’s an old line: ‘We don’t call you a cowboy until we can see you ride,’” former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, told The Hill newspaper.
Armey asked how McConnell and Boehner voted on the Troubled Asset Relief Program, adding, "TARP has been the acid test.”
Republicans invited to the event include third-ranking House member Mike Pence of Indiana, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Rep. Steve King of Iowa, Ron Paul of Texas, and Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina.
All but Pence will speak. He can’t because he’s introducing former President George W. Bush at an event in Indianapolis.
Organizers say the event is nonpartisan, though no Democrats will speak.
“This is the people’s event. This is not a Republican event. It is a time for the tea party movement to get up and represent what the tea party is all about,” Mike Gaske, one of the national coordinators for the Tea Party Patriots, told The Hill.
Thursday's events came as a series of polls continued to defy the stereotype of tea partyers at predominantly uneducated whites.
The 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as tea party supporters tend to be Republican, white, male, married and older than 45, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.
They are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public, and are no more or less afraid of falling into a lower socioeconomic class.
Only 1 percent approve of the way Congress is doing its job.
Tea partyers favor tax cuts over budget deficit reduction by a margin of 49 percent to 42 percent.
Out of a list of 17 political figures, tea partyers chose Newt Gingrich as their favorite with 10 percent of the vote, compared with 9 percent for seplace finisher Sarah Palin.
Surprisingly, only 40 percent think Palin has the ability to be an effective president, compared with 47 percent who don’t.
It’s not just tea partyers who are dissatisfied with Obama. Wednesday’s daily Gallup poll shows only a 49 percent approval rating for the president from the public overall.
Also, on Thursday, the Tea Party Express unveiled the list of candidates it will support as well as target for defeat in the midterm elections.
Among the candidates is former Reno, Nev., assemblywoman Sharron Angle, who is in the race to unseat U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Fox News reported.
Angle is among a handful of "heroes" tea party members say they are supporting. That list also includes new candidates and incumbents former Florida Speaker Marco Rubio, who is running for the U.S. Senate; Rand Paul, son of Rep. Ron Paul, who's running for the U.S. Senate seat from Kentucky; former Rep. Pat Toomey, who is challenging Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter; and South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint. All are Republicans.
In a target list released Thursday, the Tea Party Express said it is taking aim in the Senate at Specter and Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., and in the House, at Reps. Betsy Markey, D-Colo.; Alan Grayson, D-Fla.; Baron Hill, D-Ind.; Barney Frank, D-Mass.; Dina Titus, D-Nev.; John Spratt, D-S.C., Tom Perriello, D-Va.; Gerry Connolly, D-Va.; and Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va.
Here is the entire list of endorsements the Tea Party Express released Thursday.
California — Chuck Devore (R)
Florida — Marco Rubio (R)
Kansas — Todd Tiahrt (R)
Kentucky — Rand Paul (R)
Nevada — Sharron Angle (R)
Pennsylvania — Pat Toomey (R)
South Carolina — Jim DeMint (R)
California — 4th Congressional District, Tom McClintock (R)
Georgia — 6th, Tom Price (R)
Idaho — 1st, Walt Minnick (D)
Indiana — 6th, Mike Pence (R)
Minnesota — 6th, Michele Bachmann (R)
South Carolina — 2nd, Joe Wilson (R)
Tennessee — 7th, Marsha Blackburn (R)
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