Trouble brewing between the Tea Party movement and the GOP?
Members of the Tea Party movement say they are not beholden to the GOP.
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The healthcare debate is where conservative Tea Partiers feel they have had most impact. They are convinced they forced Republicans into opposing the reform and felt they were a crucial factor in getting Scott Brown elected to the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Ted Kennedy.Skip to next paragraph
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"On a conference call in December someone said maybe Brown could win and that we should get behind him," Meckler of the Tea Party Patriots said. "The idea gained momentum from there."
People like retirees Calvin and Linda Dykstra wanted to eliminate the Democrats' 60-seat, filibuster-proof majority that helped healthcare reform pass a vote in late December. They drove from western Michigan to Massachusetts in January and spent a week campaigning for Brown.
Speaking at a Tea Party meeting in Manistee, Michigan, the two beamed and blushed like newlyweds, despite being in their mid-60s. "Not everyone had the time or the money to do what we did, but we felt we had to stop the socialist government takeover of healthcare," said Calvin, a former physician.
As the movement has grown, coalitions have formed. In Michigan, Tea Party groups have formed the Michigan Tea Party Alliance with supporters of Glenn Beck's 9.12 Project -- a conservative group that wants America to resume the spirit of unity of September 12, 2001, the day after the September 11 attacks.
"The movement is beginning to coalesce around a core set of principles -- constitutionally limited government, free market ideology and low taxes," said Tony Raymond, who was laid off at consulting company Accenture in March 2009 and is now a leader of the Northern Illinois Patriots.
The Tea Party Patriots now have two paid national coordinators -- Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler -- whose salaries come from member contributions. "I only started getting paid last month," Meckler said. "I went through my life savings to get to this point and my family has really suffered."
"I was working for the movement 100 hours a week and they either had to start paying me or I'd have to go back to work."
There is a mentoring program to teach novice local leaders how to organize, as more than 200 new groups have joined them since the beginning of 2010.
Staff at FreedomWorks believe the movement's expansion is largely behind it, but American Majority's Ryun said "the Tea Party is going to continue to grow until the country gets back on the right track."
Other volunteer groups have stepped in to aid conservatives in their quest for ideological purity. Utah-based Independence Caucus, for instance, vets conservative candidates using a questionnaire containing 80 questions based on the U.S. Constitution. Candidates who answer yes to at least 70 percent of those questions are interviewed by local conservatives.
If they pass muster, Independence Caucus backs their candidacy. "But if we find someone is a chameleon and was lying, our policy is we'll work twice as hard to remove them from office as we did to get them elected," said Donald Jakel, the group's coordinator for Ohio and Michigan.
Independence Caucus has vetted at least one candidate in half the state and national seats up for grabs in Michigan.