'Tea Party' Members Offer a Ground-level View

Reject forming a third party. "I don't like third parties," says Melanie Morgan, a former talk-show host who has been working with the Tea Party movement in California. "They don't work. Ask the people who supported Ross Perot. We ended up with Bill Clinton for eight years."

"There are plenty of alternative parties out there," says Bradley Rees, a factory worker in Lynchburg who writes a blog and hosts an Internet radio show. "The Tea Party is best served by being a watchdog group independent of all parties."

Resent their portrayal in news stories.Liberal commentators including Eric Boehlert of Media Matters argue that some news organizations have overstated the clout of the Tea Party, but the activists USA TODAY interviewed call coverage in many newspapers and TV outlets unfairly negative.

They bristle in particular at stories that portray them as racists. Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., said they were subjected to racial epithets during a demonstration by Tea Party activists on Capitol Hill earlier this year. Last month, the NAACP asked Tea Party activists to disavow the racist rhetoric of some members of the movement.

Mark Meckler, a California lawyer and national coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots, says his group and others have denounced those who have made racially inflammatory remarks. "It's demonstrated that the movement has matured," he says.

C.L. Bryant, an African-American pastor of a church in Louisiana who has made frequent appearances on television and at rallies to defend the Tea Party, says attributing the views of a few fringe elements to the entire movement would be akin to assuming that all NAACP members agree with the New Black Panther movement's hostility to whites.

"No matter which side of the aisle you're on, we do have to admit there are nuts among us," Bryant says.

Have no consensus on or much enthusiasm about the 2012 presidential field.

"I've got some people I think have some promise, but we've got a lot of time between now and then," Lloyd says. "I have been disappointed so much by the Republican Party that I'm just not prepared to put a lot of hope in any one person."

Littleton accuses GOP politicians of "pandering" to the Tea Party. "There's tons of rhetoric out there from all of these born-again conservatives," he says, "but I've yet to see anybody who's really standing tall on all of this stuff."

Many Tea Party supporters are Republicans or Republican-leaning voters who felt betrayed by the GOP during George W. Bush's presidency and since. They cite the Wall Street bailout known as TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) and the Medicare prescription-drug benefit as the sort of expensive, big government programs they decry.

"I got angry when I was watching them pass the TARP bill," signed by Bush in October 2008, says Howard Hellwinkel, a New York businessman.

Some worry that their success may attract what Bryant calls "unscrupulous political operatives" who will try to co-opt the movement.

There also has been squabbling among Tea Party groups. "If some of these individuals don't tone it down and back off and play nice with one another, they are going to take a perfectly good movement and ruin it," Morgan warns.

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