DANVILLE, KENTUCKY —
Democratic Vice President Joe Biden faces Republican Congressman Paul Ryan in their only televised debate October 11 in the state of Kentucky. While the debates will focus partly on foreign policy, Kentucky’s conservative Tea Party
voters - who represent a growing number of politically active voters in the state - are more concerned about domestic issues, such as how to create jobs, curb federal spending, and shrink government.
Kentucky voter Eric Wilson is concerned about his children’s future.
White Residents 89%
Black Residents 8%
Asian Residents 1.2%
Residents of Hispanic or Latino Origin 3.2%
Unemployment Rate 8.5%
Median Household Income $41,576
Residents below poverty level 17.7%
Source: US Census, BLS
"I have to do now what is right, to give them the lifestyle that they need," Wilson said.
He is so passionate that he leads the Kentucky 9/12 Project, a loosely affiliated group of voters who want to re-capture the predominant mood of Americans in the wake of the September 11th terror attacks.
"It’s the day after September 11th, when we weren’t red states or blue states, we were the United States," he explained.
But despite the non-partisan mantra, Wilson’s home state of Kentucky is a so-called red state, which currently favors conservative Republican candidates for public office. Groups like Wilson's are among the most conservative. Their popularity is partly a result of the growing strength of the Tea Party movement. They share the same values and concerns.
“I like the fact that the Tea party is kind of this nebulous thing that’s a little hard to define, but essentially when it comes down to it, smaller government, balanced budgets, less debt, a simpler tax code, and dismantling this political class," said Tea Party activist David Adams. Those were key points, he said, that helped elect Tea party favorite Rand Paul to the U.S. Senate.
Adams was Rand Paul’s campaign manager and says the Tea Party is a force to reckon with. "It has really shaken up the Republican Party in my view," he said.
Democratic voter Liz Cook, who lives in Danville, Kentucky -- site of the vice presidential debate -- is concerned about the rise of groups like 9/12. She also worries about the Tea Party's desire to slash government programs.
"It’s a little scary because I view them as an extreme part of the Republican Party. And I think that any extremist groups make it a challenge for other more moderate reasonable discussions to surface," she said.
But 9/12 Director Eric Wilson says groups affiliated with the Tea Party are not extremist.
“The Tea Party is really the sentiment of the people," he said. The sentiment of the people is still of frustration, still wanting their power, wanting their liberties back, still shouting at their TV, still shouting at their elected officials saying “hey, give me a voice.'”
It's no secret that Mitt Romney will most likely win Kentucky in November. Beyond that, Tea Party activists aim to elect candidates to Kentucky's legislature who will support the conservative agenda: a rollback of abortion rights, support of the coal industry and cuts to medical care for the poor. To achieve that, Republicans will have to control the state's House of Representatives, something that has eluded them for almost a century.