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'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?

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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.

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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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