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WASHINGTON -- Can yard signs and volunteer phone banks trump big money and TV ads this November?
Tea party activists wrapping up a four-day election boot camp here say they''ll make up in "sweat equity" what they lack in political cash to get out the vote for candidates who've signed their Contract From America to shrink government and lower taxes.
But a new Politico report reveals growing concerns among tea party activists that "their efforts to reshape American politics, starting with the 2010 elections, are being undermined by a shortage of cash that's partly the result of a deep ambivalence within the movement's grass roots over the very idea of fundraising and partly attributable to an inability to win over the wealthy donors who fund the conservative establishment."
That ambivalence was on display today at the downtown headquarters of the conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks, which brought about 50 activists to Washington for training. The goal was to move them beyond protests and steep them in the mechanics of voter turnout to prove wrong those critics who say the anti-government insurgency is more bark than bite.
The "Take Back America 2010" boot camp featured sessions such as "Public Relations 101," "How to Stay Out of Jail This Year," "Free Market Economics 101" and "What's Going to Happen on Nov. 3?" -- the day after the election.
Missing from the agenda: Fundraising 101.
"The power is not in how much money you raise but in how many people are engaging in community building and getting out the vote," FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe said. "The real power in politics circa 2010 is on the ground."
Kibbe and former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey, the group's chairman, will take that message on tour later this month for their book "Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto." The book details the bottom-up revolt that this year has thrown a wrench into the best-laid plans of the Republican establishment and given Democrats a way to brand the GOP with the tea party label.
Enthusiasm for the fall campaign was running high among the activists who said their goodbyes at FreedomWorks a day before primary and runoff voters in Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia and Minnesota went to the polls.
"We run on a shoestring," said Meg Shannon of the South Florida Tea Party, who has depended on volunteers to donate such rally staples as flags and pig-shaped balloons reading "No Pork." Still, she said the energy level of activists has only risen as the midterm election approaches.
"It's very exciting to see what other groups are doing," said Gary Murphy of New York's Hudson Valley Patriots, who joined other activists from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida at the session. He said that his group has a local e-mail list of 1,600 people and that members regularly stand at commuter train stations handing out their newsletter, The Well-Informed Citizen. Among the recent headlines: "The Repeal of ObamaCare?" "Is the U.S. on the road to becoming a nanny state?" and "What Economic Recovery?"
"There's no organization and at the same time there's a lot of organization," said Murphy's colleague, Howard Hellwinkel. "It's like a field of grass. Each blade grows by itself, but there's no organization for the field itself. Each blade grows with the common goal -- it has to grow strong and healthy."
Tom Borelli, director of the National Center for Public Policy Research's Free Enterprise Project, said "blood, sweat and tears" will count for more than campaign contributions this November. "Money is always important in politics, but this election people are more energized and focused on the issues, and that may supersede money," he said.
Don Hensarling, Florida director of the 912 Project, said "boots on the ground" will prevail on Election Day but conceded that money is a concern.
"We really don't have the organization to deal with that," he said. There has been talk among state and national leaders about forming a national political action committee to raise money, but he said it was unlikely to come together until after next month's taxpayer march on Washington and possibly not until after the November election.
"It's not decided yet," he said. "We don't have a board or anything yet."
WASHINGTON -- Can yard signs and volunteer phone banks trump big money and TV ads this November? Tea party activists wrapping up a four-day election boot camp here say they''ll make up in "sweat equity" what they lack in political cash to get out the vote for candidates who've signed their Contract From America to shrink government and lower taxes.