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March 02, 2010

Republicans Counting on Energized US Conservatives for November Election

by Jim Malone

In U.S. politics, 2010 is shaping up to be a good year to be a conservative.  Poll ratings for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress are down, and opposition Republicans are hoping that energized conservatives will carry the party to victory in the November congressional elections.  But the conservative movement is not monolithic.

Grass roots conservatives were early and vocal opponents of President Obama's health care reform plan.  That grass roots anger against big government evolved into what is known as the tea party movement, a loosely-organized nationwide activist group that was inspired by the anti-tax tea protests just prior to the American Revolution.

Former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was the featured speaker at a national tea party convention last month.

"The tea party movement is not a top-down operation," said Sarah Palin. "It is a ground-up call to action that is forcing both parties to change the way that they are doing business, and that is beautiful!"

Republicans hope to benefit from the tea party activists in this November's congressional midterm elections.  In addition, Republicans who are considering a run for president in 2012 are also busy trying to line up supporters among various conservative groups including the tea party activists and religious conservatives.

Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty is a potential presidential contender who spoke at a recent meeting of conservative activists in Washington.

"God is in charge.  God is in charge," said Tim Pawlenty. "It says we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights.  It does not say we are endowed by Washington, D.C., or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government.  It is by our creator that we are given these rights!"

Christian conservative voters were important in the election victories of former President George W. Bush, but they showed less enthusiasm for Republican candidate John McCain in 2008.

Although there is some overlap, tea party activists are most concerned with the role of the federal government, while religious conservatives are focused on social issues like abortion and gay marriage.

All of these various voting blocs will have to be energized this year if Republicans are to realize their goal of taking back control of Congress.

Many Republicans acknowledge the party's image suffered during the George W. Bush presidential years when congressional Republicans failed to follow through on conservative principles like cutting back on government spending.

This is Republican Congressman Eric Cantor of Virginia:

"We understand the country is fed up with the Democrats, but is not confident yet that we as Republicans will be any better," said Eric Cantor. "The people need to see our commitment to enact a reform agenda."

Conservative Republicans have led the charge against President Obama's health care reform plan by depicting it as a massive government takeover of the health-care industry.

The president and his Democratic allies in Congress have repeatedly accused Republicans of distorting the plan and playing on American's fears of big government.

Mr. Obama complained directly during a meeting with House Republican members in January.

"But if you were to listen to the debate and, frankly, how some of you went after this bill, you would think that this thing was some Bolshevik plot," said President Obama. "No, I mean, that is how you guys, how you guys presented it."

Conservatives see their path back to power as principled opposition to the president on health care and other issues involving the role of government, like climate change legislation.

Public-opinion polls suggest Republicans have an edge in intensity this year as the elections approach, and the growth of the tea party movement is likely to play a role.

But the overall conservative movement is not monolithic, says University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato.

"The Republicans are very conflicted," said Larry Sabato. "They are fighting among themselves.  They are battling with the Tea Party activists and they are battling with some of their own base, which is more conservative than the congressional leadership.  Fortunately for the Republicans, they have President Obama as their target.  That will tend to unite their base, at least for this midterm election."

Tea party activists plan to support a number of challengers in Republican primaries this year, including some candidates who are running against some well known names.  Arizona Republican Senator John McCain and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, who is running for the Senate, both face strong challenges from conservatives.

This is Quinnipiac University pollster Peter Brown:

"It is not clear how influential this tea bag movement will be in the Republican Party," said Peter Brown. "It makes good headlines and the media loves it.  But it is not clear whether they will be a destructive force within the Republican Party or they will be a helpful force for the Republican Party.  We will find that out when we start seeing election results next November and in November of 2012."

Most political experts believe Republicans will gain congressional seats in November, and perhaps enough to take back control of one or both chambers of Congress.