The national tea party movement is once again growing, thanks to the uproar over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups, Republican outrage over Obamacare, and other controversies that have hurt the administration.
Jenny Beth Martin, who heads the Tea Party Patriots, told The Wall Street Journal
that her organization's monthly donations have tripled and its staff has doubled. The group's influence on politics is growing again, she stressed.
"We're not high-powered. We don't have bucket loads of money," but the political establishment is "scared to death of us," said Martin, who runs the largest tea party umbrella group in the country.
The Patriots were refused tax-exempt status by the IRS last year and Martin said the group has just received a new letter from the IRS demanding more information on the direct mail, advertising and telemarketing activities before the 2012 election and through this year.
"This is beyond anger and frustration," she said, referring to the continued IRS scrutiny.
Still, the IRS targeting controversy has helped the Patriots and other tea party organizations raise their profiles. In June, for example, a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll found that 51 percent of Republicans had a positive view of the tea party, up from 42 percent in January.
Those numbers, however, are still well below where they were in 2010, when 63 percent of Republicans approved of the movement's efforts. And it remains to be seen whether the movement can generate enough strength to achieve its goals of defunding Obamacare and electing a new round of conservatives to Congress, even if it means getting rid of establishment Republicans whose views are not conservative enough to satisfy tea party voters.
The tea party has already painted targets on the backs of powerful GOP Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. Each is expected to have several tea party challengers in their bids for re-election next year.
"Many traditional conservatives want the tea-party label — again — to distance themselves from the establishment," Republican political strategist John Feehery told the Journal. Feehery predicted tea party activists "will impact some Republican primaries in the midterm elections."
But Brad Woodhouse, president of the liberal Americans United for Change and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee, said he doesn't think the tea party's efforts will work.
"The tea party's renewed fervor won't translate to broader gains for the Republican Party," he said. "The Republicans are already losing August, because they are fighting with each other . . . whipsawed between establishment and extreme factions."
But the Patriots insist their efforts will make a difference. Martin said the group plans to spend $750,000 on a series of town hall meetings and another $1 million on TV and radio spots in districts where lawmakers aren't fighting to scrap Obamacare. The group is also planning a rally Sept. 10 on Capitol Hill to demand that lawmakers withhold any funds that could help implement the healthcare reform law.
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