The Government Shutdown Showdown, the Tea Party and Emptying Nesters

BY Dante Chinni  April 5, 2011 at 6:30 PM EDT

Disney - Mad Tea Party at Night; Creative Commons photo courtesy flickr.com/expressmonorail/

To shut down or not to shut down?

As the budget battles go on in Congress, that is the question in Washington. And in recent days it seems the momentum toward a shutdown has grown. On Monday morning members of the conservative Tea Party Nation group received an email with the rather unambiguous subject line: “Let the Government Shut Down!”

The bravado is not a complete surprise to Patchwork Nation.

During the congressional recess we attended a town hall meeting for freshman GOP Rep. Rich Nugent in Lake County, Fla., and heard the same thing coming from members of a very conservative audience there. Lake is an Emptying Nest county in Florida and home to Clermont, a small town that we have been visiting for more than three years now, and many there say the conservative politics of the place have grown much more intense in the past year to 18 months.

On Nugent’s trip home he not only held a regular constituent town hall meeting in Lake County to give people a chance to air their concerns, he also held a separate Tea Party meeting that, according to reports, actually featured a bigger turnout. The meaning? In a county full of seniors and retirees, the conservative wing of the GOP is the ascendant force of local politics. And its members are in no mood for compromise — at least for now.

But the power of the Tea Party in Emptying Nests like Clermont may soon face some new challenges.

Growing Anger

To be clear, Lake and Clermont (home to two gated, over-55 golf course communities), were never bastions of liberalism. Like other Emptying Nests, the natural political tendency had a rightward bent. And in 2008, candidate Barack Obama only did about four percentage points better in Lake than Sen. John Kerry did in 2004 — 43 percent to 39 percent respectively.

But, as we have noted in more detailed reporting, the area was hit especially hard in the recession. Seniors who had money in the stock market took a very big hit and unlike younger investors did not have a lot of time to make their money back. Lake has been hammered by foreclosures, more than 2,400 currently, and by falling home values. And unemployment fell in February, but the rate still stands at 11.5 percent — hardly news to celebrate.