Tea Party Is on the March in 2010

BY Judy Woodruff  March 8, 2010 at 3:00 PM EST

One month after their convention in Nashville, Tenn., landed them firmly on the political radar screen, organizers and supporters of the tea party movement are hyper-focused on November’s mid-term elections for the U.S. House and Senate.

Judy Woodruff“We want to elect candidates who adhere to our ‘first principles,’” says Mark Skoda, a convention organizer who heads a political group called Ensuring Liberty. In short, those are: “states rights, fiscal responsibility, lower taxes, less government and national security.”

Skoda, who lives in Memphis and has a full-time job with a technology firm, offers that if President Obama had governed last year the way he campaigned, the tea party movement “wouldn’t have happened, at least not this fast.” He says the anger at government spending began simmering under President George W. Bush, but it boiled over when “President Obama put his foot on the accelerator.”

In a moment of reflection, Skoda concedes the federal rescue of large banks and the auto companies was “probably necessary to ensure confidence” in the economy, but the rich bonuses that bankers are paying themselves cemented a sense that they live by a different moral standard.

The Ensuring Liberty political action committee is raising money and has as its goal electing 15 to 20 candidates this year, mainly to the House of Representatives, but possibly the Senate — and their candidates must embrace the Tea Party “first principles.”

For starters, they’re targeting the Arkansas Senate seat held by Democrat Blanche Lincoln; three Arkansas House seats; three House seats in Tennessee; and at least one each in Pennsylvania, Florida and Mississippi.

They aim to get all members they help elect to vote as a caucus; and in the next congressional election cycle, to elect as many as 50 or 60 members. That would be 2012, the year they say they also plan to “make Obama a one-term president.”

Broadly speaking, their goal is to “take back our government,” or “get government out of the way.” They want to freeze all government spending at current levels, lower the tax rate on corporations and capital gains, and stop the growth of entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“We know Medicare is broke and Social Security will be insolvent in several years,” Skoda tells me; “tough choices will have to be made.” He’s done his homework, pointing out entitlements and defense spending alone make up over three-fourths of all U.S. government outlays.

The 55-year-old Skoda says he’d personally like to cut out the Departments of Energy, Commerce and Education, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Endowment for the Arts. But even that wouldn’t be enough. Defense spending, according to Skoda, “needs to be rationalized,” in a way that preserves national security as a “first principle.”

There is no obvious candidate for president on the horizon who’d have Tea Party support. And Sokda isn’t ready to endorse tea party favorite former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin. “I’m not sure she is ready yet for a run for the presidency,” he said, adding he wasn’t sure about former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney either.

Just as Barack Obama rocketed from a political unknown to the White House in a matter of a few years. the tea party plans to pull off its own rapid ascension: “There are a lot of things to address; we need someone to lead us,” Skoda said. “Traditional Republicans won’t be the ones who win. I think it will be a surprise.”