'Run, Sarah, run': Sarah Palin's tea party speech a hit

Light, folksy, and full of jabs against President Obama and the Democrats in Washington, Sarah Palin’s tea party speech in Nashville, Tenn., marked a possible milestone for her future presidential plans. But will the tea party movement help or hurt her plans in the long run?

By , Staff writer

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    Sarah Palin speaks during the National Tea Party Convention at Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee Saturday.
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Appearing relaxed and filling the Opryland resort here with her trademark folksy but often stinging jabs at Obama and the Democrats, Sarah Palin on Saturday night became the face of the anti-establishment ‘tea party’ movement.

America is ready for another revolution, and you are part of this,” Ms. Palin told 1,100 attendees at the first National Tea Party Convention at the Opryland resort outside Nashville.

While calling for new "big ideas," Palin didn't lay out any specific plans, as prospective presidential contenders are wont to when they have a chance to give a national speech, according to the Associated Press.

She did, however, criticize Democrats in Washington for what she called the failure to right the US economy, expensive bailout packages, and for what she perceives as a lax national security stance. She specifically called for "tough actions like sanctions on Iran."

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Ms. Palin said she is not seeking a leadership role in the tea party. The former Republican vice presidential candidate and current Fox News commentator told the convention that they – and she – were proof that “you don’t need an office or a title to make a difference, and you don't need a proclaimed leader, as if we are all a bunch of sheep and looking for a leader to progress this movement.”

But the high enthusiasm in the room for the former Alaska governor – many of the tea party activists at the event undertook long drives to see her – suggested she could be the leader of this movement if she wanted.

“Run, Sarah, run,” the crowd at the convention exhorted.

On Fox News Sunday, she suggested she was contemplating a presidential run in 2012.

De facto leader?

As keynote speaker at the convention, Palin has undoubtedly given the tea party movement a new level of legitimacy and stature. Moreover, her decision to go ahead with the speech even as others pulled out suggested to many that she may be positioning herself as the de facto leader of the tea party movement.

Bolstering that view is Palin’s decision to turn down an invitation to speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference later this month. The conference is widely considered a must-attend event for conservatives and Republicans lining up a run for office.

But associating herself so strongly with the tea party movement – she’s planning to headline tea party events in Searchlight, Nev., and Boston in the near future – could hurt Palin, too. For one, it could turn off independent and moderate voters, many of whom make up the 46 percent of Americans who view her unfavorably, according to a recent CNN poll.

Part of what makes the tea party movement controversial are the fringe views held by some activists. Former congressman Tom Tancredo stirred up controversy with his opening night speech Thursday when he said Mr. Obama was elected by "people who could not even spell the word vote or say it in English," and called for making civics literacy tests a prerequisite for voting. Such tests were used during Jim Crow to keep blacks from voting and were banned by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Mr. Tancredo later said he wasn’t targeting any particular group with his remark.

Tea party convention organizer Judson Phillips called Tancredo’s speech “fantastic.”

Some tea party activists, such as Lee Puckett, a commercial photographer from Birmingham, Ala., say they’re not sure Palin is smart to court the tea party because it could make her seem too far out of the mainstream.

Even if the tea party movement turns out not to be her natural constituency – if the fringe elements tarnish her broader appeal or the movement simply rejects the notion of a leader – Palin is for now its chief cheerleader.

Jabs at Obama

In her speech, Palin pointed to Republican Scott Brown’s surprise victory in Massachusetts’s special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat as evidence of what the tea party movement is capable of doing in the 2010 elections. (The extent of the role that tea party cash and support played in Mr. Brown’s win is unclear.)

“Scott Brown in many ways represents what this beautiful movement is all about,” Palin said. “It’s about a guy with a truck and a passion to serve our country, who looked around and saw that things weren’t quite right in Washington … and decided he was going to do his part to our our government back on the side of the people.”

She also took several jabs at Obama, who has become the chief target of the tea party movement.

"The Obama-Pelosi-Reid agenda will leave us less secure, more in debt and under the thumb of big government," she said, adding, "How's that hope-y, change-y stuff working out for you?"

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