Sunday, November 14, 2010

Political Activists Question Tea Party Impact

Political Activists Question Tea Party Impact
Political Activists Question Tea Party Impact
Democrats and Republicans say ‘anti-government’ message unlikely to resonate in Fairfax.

By Julia O'Donoghue
Friday, October 29, 2010
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Back when Sandy Green was a federal employee several years ago, public sector workers made less than private sector employees. But today, Green believes federal employees make more than their counterparts in the private sector, she said.

"Now, it is totally the opposite. You can make more money as a government employee. It all happened very quickly," said Green, who worries that federal spending, including retirement packages and other benefits, have gotten out of hand.

Traditionally, Green had never been very politically active. But she was dismayed by what she saw during the 2008 Democratic Party primary race, when President Barack Obama beat Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

So in the summer of 2009, she started to become active with the Tea Party movement, going to marches on the National Mall and attending local meetings.

A year later, Green is participating in a monthly discussion group on the U.S. Constitution and watching Glenn Beck on a regular basis. She and two other women formed the Fair Lakes Tea Party, a local chapter of the larger Northern Virginia Tea Party, three months ago.

"Now, I am a conservative," said Green.

Green is a conservative, but she is not a Republican.

"For myself, it is not really about political party. ... But I do really think we can make a difference. We can provide manpower to candidates," she said.

LOCAL TEA PARTY activists intend to have an impact in Fairfax County's three congressional races Nov. 2.

Northern Virginia Tea Party founder Ron Wilcox said the organization will try to have volunteers at most of the local polling stations on Election Day, much like the Democratic Party and Republican Party do. The group is also sponsoring seminars on how to become "conservative Internet activist" and community organizing workshops.

"Tea Party folks are not a happy lot. They want to know that their candidates are going to pursue limited government," said Wilcox, who described himself as a conservative grassroots organizer.

Though flyers for the Tea Party described the organization as nonpartisan, Wilcox encouraged members to volunteer for Fairfax's three Republican candidates for U.S. Congress — Patrick Murray, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) and Keith Fimian.

"One of the things that I am hearing is that the campaigns need help with phone banking," said Wilcox during the Fair Lakes gathering.

Wilcox, who has worked with conservative movements and on previous political campaigns, is confident that the Tea Party activists will have an impact on local elections.

"There is a lot of energy. This group meets once per week. Sometimes they meet more often than that," he said.

"For each one of us here, there are 10 other people that cannot be here but have gotten involved," said Alma Jackson, a Fairfax resident who is a Fair Lakes Tea Party member.

BUT SEASONED Democratic and Republican political activists question the impact that the Tea Party brand of conservatism can have in Northern Virginia, particularly if the movement pursues an "anti-federal government" message.

"Fairfax is a government town and it is always going to be a government town," said former U.S. Rep. Tom Davis, who used to represent Connolly's district and now works for a large federal government contractor.

More federal contracts flow to Fairfax than any other locality in the country and the largest employer in Virginia's 11th congressional district, where Fimian is running against U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), is the federal government, according to a Fairfax Economic Development Authority report.

In part because of the large federal workforce, Fairfax County is also enjoying a much lower unemployment rate, around 4.7 percent, than the country as a whole, where unemployment is just over 9 percent.

"I think the Republican base is very angry and upset but I am not sure we are seeing the level of anger here that there is elsewhere," said Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook (R-Braddock).

STILL, elected officials said many local voters are upset and nervous about the direction of the country, even if they haven't aligned themselves with the Tea Party movement. Incumbents, including Connolly, should not underestimate their level of concern, they said.

"There is tremendous anger out there directed at any person who holds any position of power. People are angry about unemployment and the national deficit," said Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee).

State Sen. Dave Marsden (D-37), who has been campaigning for Connolly, said he also hears about concern from the voters.

"I think this is a difficult environment for incumbents. People are worried about the deficit and voters are going to do what they think sends the best message," said Marsden, who also thinks the election between Connolly and Fimian will be close.

In a more positive economic climate, the race between Fimian and Connolly would not be as close as it is, said some Republicans and Democrats.

"Northern Virginia is not in love with Republicans. But I think our voters want to add a little balance to the political equation," said Davis.

"As the incumbent and former Fairfax County chairman, Connolly should be way ahead. I think the fact that this is a close race shows how unhappy people are," said Cook.

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