After caucuses, Colorado tea party asking: What now?
Associated Press Writer
DENVER – Colorado tea party activists have picketed President Barack Obama and sparked excitement in state caucuses in which their anti-establishment ranks boosted little-known conservatives.
Now they’re asking how they can change Colorado politics when, by their own admission, they resist organization and don’t take orders well.
It’s a dilemma for a movement of dozens of conservative groups that reject Democratic plans in Washington. Tea partiers are right-of-center and opposed to any government expansion. They blame incumbents from both parties for what they see as dangerous growth in public spending, and they are pushing for a seismic political shake-up this fall by ousting incumbents.
“They’re all frickin’ worthless as far as we’re concerned,” said Paul Donohue, organizer of a tea party group in Castle Rock.
Donohue, a 45-year-old financial adviser, bitterly denounces incumbents even though he serves on the nonpartisan Castle Rock town council.
“This is not a third political party,” Donohue said. “These are just people that are very concerned about the direction the country is going in.”
What tea party members in Colorado do seem to agree on: They want to revive conservative ideals and drive Democrats and moderate Republicans out of office. It’s a worldview Colorado Republicans hope elects GOP candidates this fall.
“They’re vocal, they show up, they suggest there’s a sea change,” said former GOP Rep. Bob Schaffer, who lost a 2008 Senate contest to Democrat Mark Udall.
Schaffer keeps tabs on the tea party movement and recently addressed a strategy meeting of activists at the state Capitol, sharing tips on “moving from noise to usefulness.”
“You can get some people together in your back yard and say, ‘Yes, we all agree,’ and that’s great, but that’s just saying, ‘We all agree,'” Schaffer told them.
One organizer, Kelly Stanley of the Tea Party Patriots, put the number of active tea party members in Colorado at about 220,000. Others say they aren’t sure an accurate count is possible given the movement’s intentional lack of uniformity.
Precinct caucuses in Colorado on Tuesday didn’t answer that question. Activists talked about denouncing Republicans they see as too centrist and strengthening candidates considered to be political outsiders. Their success was mixed.
In the Republican Senate race, activists rejected former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton, who enjoys a sizable fundraising advantage but drew less than 38 percent in a straw poll of a crowded Republican field. Norton narrowly trailed Ken Buck, a northern Colorado prosecutor who has energetically courted tea party groups.
In other races, the tea party’s influence wasn’t as pronounced. The governor’s contest saw former Rep. Scott McInniss handily defeat Dan Maes, an Evergreen businessman who courted tea party support.
And in two northern Colorado counties, Republican caucus voters mulling a congressional candidate went with an established state lawmaker, Rep. Cory Gardner of Yuma, over three challengers, including a Loveland businessman who says the tea party inspired him to enter politics.
Some longtime Republican activists say the tea party will drive turnout for GOP candidates this fall but not reshape the party.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s a special organization; it’s just people,” said Marolyn Scheffel, a Republican activist from Parker who ran a Dougles County GOP caucus and is a former president of the Colorado Federation of Republican Women.
Scheffel and her precinct chose Buck. But Scheffel doesn’t think the tea party movement portends a great change within the GOP.
“They’re informed, they’re desirous of a change and they’re willing to get out. That’s the effect,” Scheffel said.
There are signs, however, that the movement is organizing outside the scope of the GOP.
There’s a tea party-friendly newspaper, The Constitutionalist Today, printed in Colorado Springs and handed out free at political rallies. Tea party groups use the Internet and right-leaning blogs to share strategy tips. They’re banding together to form larger coalitions, such as the 2,500-member Western Slope Conservative Alliance, to maximize influence while maintaining each group’s independence.
Activists say they don’t worry their movement will peter out – as long as its influence on the Republican party extends beyond protest rallies.
At a recent tea party-sponsored forum for Republican Senate candidates, one activist urged the crowd to ignore questions about strategy and focus on putting conservatives into office.
“Let’s not become tools in the hands of the enemy and become divided,” said Michelle Morin, who runs the Mom4Freedom blog and writes for The Constitutionalist Today.
“The right hasn’t had its act together,” she said. “But when the Pearl Harbor of elections hit in 2008, we woke up.”
On the Net:
Tea Party Patriots, Colorado: http://www.teapartypatriots.org/state/Colorado
The Constitutionalist Today: http://www.theconstitutionalisttoday.com