For the latter half of its existence, the Tea Party movement has tried to emphasize organizing in anticipation of the 2010 midterms. FreedomWorks has invited activists to Washington, D.C. for training seminars, and Tea Party Patriots, the movement's largest membership organization, has hosted an online activist-training video on its website.
But as Election Day gets closer, local Tea Party groups aren't just organizing among themselves: they're working with state Republican parties to supply volunteers to state-GOP political programs.
"We've been reaching out and working with groups across the state," said Dick Waddams, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, which is working to support Tea Party favorite Ken Buck in the state's Senate race this November. "We've actively been seeking and working with these groups for people to work with in our victory offices, volunteering to make phone calls and knock doors."
The same is true in other states with Tea-Party-style candidates running at the tops of GOP tickets, where state Republicans see Tea Partiers--both as individuals, and coordinated by local Tea Party groups--supplying volunteers to the state parties, working toward November 2 through state-GOP-organized campaign programs.
"In this state there's a lot of overlap between those sort of [Tea Party] folks and the independent voters we're looking for and, obviously, the core Republicans," said West Virginia GOP spokesman Rob Cornelius, who has seen an influx of Tea Partiers volunteering through GOP offices across the state. In his state, Republican Senate candidate John Raese has ridden anti-Obama sentiment to a lead over Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin, who was once considered a shoo-on for November.
"I've worked in races here on and off since 2002, and the amount of new faces...that we didn't know from Adam is just amazing," Cornelius said.
The same has been true in Pennsylvania, according to state GOP spokesman Mike Barley: "We've had a full-time field staff on the ground since early 2009, and as these troops were forming they were able to participate and get involved with them...they've been able to build some of those relationships early, and that's been helpful in tapping into these groups for our volunteer contact efforts."
Of course, this isn't true for every Tea Party group in every state.
"No no no no," said Di Herself, an organizer with the Capitol TEA Party Patriots in Jefferson City, Missouri, when asked if her group was supplying organizers to the Missouri Republican Party. "Vehemently no."
In that state, Rep. Roy Blunt, the former House Republican whip, is running for Senate against Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Blunt, a longtime establishment Republican, is less of a Tea Party favorite than some of his fellow GOP Senate candidates. Another prominent Tea Party group in the state, the St. Louis Tea Party, has set up its own, independent election call center, according to lead organizer Bill Hennessy.
The cooperation between Tea Partiers and state Republican parties says a few things about the state of the movement.
As should be obvious by now, the Tea Party movement and the Republican Party are not entirely separate entities. With candidates like Ken Buck, John Raese, and Pat Toomey on the ballot, the interests of the Tea Party and the Republican Party have come to overlap almost one-to-one.
When the movement began in early 2009, many wondered whether it would play nice with the Republican Party. After the Republican Party veered considerably to the right in the last year and a half, the two are working in sync.
It also shows that, while the Tea Party movement has touted its independence from the start, activists are choosing to work for the midterms through preexisting state GOP political programs. They have come to recognize that it's probably most efficient and advantageous to utilize state parties' expertise in campaign activities like targeted phone banking and canvassing, and to take advantage of their economy of scale.
State Republican parties have had a hand in this: as Barley of the Pennsylvania GOP pointed out, the state party has worked to build alliances with Tea Partiers, much as GOP candidates have done in courting the support of Tea Party groups from early on in the election cycle.
The Tea Party finds itself very close to the Republican Party in these states, and the once-unbridled-and-inchoate political enthusiasm of the movement is funneling itself through the preexisting shape of Republican election programs.
After shaping Republican tickets to its liking, the Tea Party is fueling Republican efforts through conventional election means.
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