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Tea party activists are stumping for certain candidates and issues, but often not in the name of the party.
Sunday, October 27, 2013
Their fingerprints are there, but in two Roanoke County Board of Supervisors races, the local tea party chapter has remained mostly hands-off this election season.
Instead of aiming attention on local races, the Roanoke Tea Party — with its estimated 75 to 100 active members locally — has used much of its heft instead to influence state campaigns, said Chip Tarbutton, president of the local chapter.
Tarbutton himself is actively working to get Republican E.W. Jackson elected as Virginia’s next lieutenant governor. And more attention this year was devoted to busing activists to Richmond on lobby day than any unified effort to get volunteers on the ground in the county’s Hollins and Windsor Hills districts to promote local candidates.
The national tea party faction rose to new prominence during the 2012 presidential election cycle, fueled largely by activists, like Tarbutton, and their denunciation of President Barack Obama and many of his policies, the Affordable Care Act in particular.
In Roanoke County, Republican Al Bedrosian has been praised by tea party members as an ideal candidate in the Hollins District race. And in Windsor Hills, incumbent Ed Elswick, an independent, has a volunteer campaign manager, Linda LaPrade, with tea party ties. LaPrade has also helped Elswick draft board resolutions.
But when it comes to boots-on-the-ground canvassing, Tarbutton said there’s been little effort by the organization as a whole.
“Our group doesn’t organize door-knocking events,” he said. “I know some tea party groups do that.”
In the past, the local chapter has hosted at least one candidates forum during the general election season. This year, though, the Roanoke Tea Party held none, save one during the Republican primary.
Tarbutton added that some members are helping county candidates, though, depending upon their own political persuasion and availability. Otherwise, much attention goes to state races, including the Jackson and gubernatorial campaign. Even on the local chapter’s website, a majority of recent blog posts have tackled topics of state and national importance.
Tarbutton said energy behind the 2012 presidential race helped the local chapter shift its focus to statewide issues.
“We’re not just fussing at President Obama, we’re working at the state level,” he said, adding that if they weren’t so busy, there would be more attention given to local races.
“I’ve heard other groups have had trouble keeping momentum going, but I think we played the right notes after the election,” he said. “If I wasn’t wrapped up in helping the Jackson campaign personally, we probably would have had some forums.”
Still, the state focus doesn’t preclude anyone from volunteering in local races, though in some cases, local volunteers might approach canvassing differently than they did during the height of the 2012 election, said Ed Lynch, a political scientist at Hollins University.
“My gut feeling is that the volunteers who identify themselves as tea partyers will not be leading with that when they knock on doors,” Lynch said. “I think they would have done that two years ago.”
Name recognition and the jittery climate of public opinion, it would seem, play a role in determining how the movement maneuvers into conversation. Tarbutton said he agreed with Lynch’s assessment, adding that association with the tea party often comes with a stigma.
Without a brigade of directed volunteers at his disposal, Bedrosian has said much of his campaign canvassing comes down to his own shoe-leather effort — with occasional help from his children. That leaves a lot of ground to cover in the three-way race in Hollins.
“Where there is not a national race, candidates have to work a little bit harder to get activists out doing things,” Lynch said. “In a local race like this one, it’s harder to get more activists out on the street, but they also make more of an impact because there are a lot fewer votes.”
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