Tea Party Activists Gaining Steam Across the Country

In November, the group protested against Obama's promise of immigration reform. A fistfight broke out among tea party protestors and counter-protestors from ANSWER, a pro-immigration reform group.

"A year ago, the Obama supporters were the passionate ones," New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote this week. "Now the tea party brigades have all the intensity."

By one count, there are at least 3,000 tea party organizations all over the country. The largest Facebook group of tea party enthusiasts has nearly 50,000 members. One group even has its own online newsletter, the New Patriot Journal.

The majority of supporters are Republicans. But as the number of self-identified Republicans continues to drop, the tea party moniker is also drawing independents.

Julie Weathers of Odessa, Texas, a registered independent, said she supports most of the tea party ideals, especially the notion of limited spending during times of economic crisis.

"If I'm in a budget crunch and I am, that means I cut out things that aren't necessary," she said. "I don't have cable. I live without it. I budget my groceries. ... This is not a government that even knows what the term fiscal responsibility is."

And there are Democratic converts in the tea party ranks now, too.

Nate Whigham of Atlanta voted for Obama, comes from a long line of Demcorats, and now is helping to organize the Georgia tea party.

"The tea party aligned with what I was already feeling with three core values, which are fiscal responsibility, constitutionally limited government, and free markets," Whigham said.

The nationwide movement has no identifiable leader, but there is plenty of star power.

Conservative television news talk show host Glenn Beck has given a face to the movement. And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is confirmed to speak at two upcoming tea party conferences in Nashville and San Antonio.

Because they have growing influence, moderates are scrambling to show their support.

Rob Simmons, a former Connecticut congressman who is running for Senate, recently added a tea bag to the copy of the U.S. Constitution he always carries in his pocket.

Think of it as armor, proof of his solidarity with the tea party.

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