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Tea Party Offers Risks and Rewards for Republicans

Grass-roots conservative activists with the so-called Tea Party movement are on their way to Washington in a national bus tour. Tea Party supporters launched their tour with a series of rallies in Nevada and Arizona. VOA attended some of the recent rallies and has more on what the Tea Party activists want and what their impact might be in U.S. congressional midterm elections in November.

Tea Party supporters tend to be conservative. They are largely white, middle-aged or older, and have a deep suspicion of government.

They also tend to be very critical of President Barack Obama and the Democrats in Congress.

"Socialism and tyranny, despotism, communism, and a closet Muslim," Rusty Green stated. He travels the country attending Tea Party rallies and selling anti-Obama bumper stickers and t-shirts.

"I believe in maximum freedom, minimum government. The government should be controlled by the people, not the people controlled by the government. That is what the Tea Party is about in my mind," he added.

Green was among thousands of people who attended a recent Tea Party rally in Searchlight, Nevada. Searchlight is the home of Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, and Tea Party activists used the rally to call for his defeat in the congressional elections coming up in November.

The Tea Party movement takes its name and inspiration from anti-tax protests of the past, especially the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when American colonists threw tea into Boston Harbor as a protest against taxes imposed by Britain.

Tea Party activists do not like taxes, government spending or the Obama health-care plan.

But they do like former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. "And we are not going to sit down and shut up, and thank you for standing up!" she said.

Many in the crowd at the rally in Searchlight held signs urging Palin to run for president in 2012.

But most of the local Republican politicians who attended the rally were hoping to draw Tea Party activists into their campaigns.

Sharron Angle is a Republican running for the Senate in Nevada. "The Tea Party movement is like me. They are just sick and tired of the way that the government has taken their Constitution and dragged it through the mud," she said.

But some of the Tea Party supporters are critical of the Republican Party for not doing more to control government spending when it held the majority in Congress.

Harris Holler came to the Tea Party rally from California. "I believe that the Tea Party movement is more aligned with the Republican Party, but I also believe that a lot of us people who are Tea Party-goers are not necessarily saying we are going to vote for the Republicans automatically. It is just not there," Holler said.

Nevada Democrats are closely watching the Tea Party movement, trying to gauge its impact on this year's congressional elections.

Democrat Paul Schmier does not like what he sees. "I feel their violent attitude is not healthy for anybody, Republican or Democrat," Schmier said.

Political analysts are divided about whether the Tea Party movement will become a political party to compete with the Democrats and Republicans.

"They have kind of realized that the third party route is not a winner. So I think you have seen this more or less agreement among the different groups here that we are going to try to remake the Republican Party, starting at the grass roots," David Damore explained. He is a political scientist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas.

Experts say Tea Party activists could complicate the November congressional elections if they run their own candidates to compete with Republican and Democratic candidates. Analysts say that would likely take votes away from Republicans and help Democrats.

"If they were to operate outside the framework of the Republican Party and run their own candidates, then that would be a problem for the Republicans," Peter Brown, Quinnipiac University pollster stated. "If they participate in Republican primaries, then that necessarily could be a help to the Republican Party."

In the meantime, conservative Republican candidates across the country are eagerly trying to embrace the Tea Party movement and tap into its energy, hopeful that enthusiasm will bring them victory on Election Day in November.

Related Report by VOA's Kane Farabaugh