2010-03-18 / Local & State

Pa.’s ‘Tea Party’ Finding Strength In Independence


HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – Some day it might be remembered as the Tea Party primary.

The newly forming activist groups that identify heartily with calls for cutting taxes, red tape and government programs are organizing demonstrations, holding candidate forums and getting a boost from private conservative institutions in Pennsylvania.

Candidates, especially Republicans, who are running for office are heeding the message that is spawning challengers to GOP incumbents or establishment candidates.

“There aren’t many free passes,’’ said G. Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

There are dozens of the groups in Pennsylvania, some that claim hundreds of members. Many identify with a local area – a few are beginning to organize under regional umbrellas – and use the “tea party’’ moniker or the “9/12 Project’’ promoted by conservative commentator Glenn Beck.

Coordinators who now spend entire days organizing, funneling information and networking are, in some cases, people whose political activity was previously limited to voting. Next month, a few will be panelists or exhibitors at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, the state’s largest gathering of conservatives.

The goals and methods tend to vary from group to group, and some are able to provide few specifics as to how they want government to change, but they’ve made a strong impression.

Their refusal, so far, to endorse establishment candidates or form a third party may be their strongest hand. Some, perhaps many, tea party organizers want to remain independent and force Republicans, Democrats and independents to court them.

“This is not Republican versus Democrat anymore, and this is what has both parties scared to death,’’ said Joe Hilliard, 44, an Allentown resident who is an assistant organizer of an area group.

Rob Gleason, the Republican State Committee chairman, said the opposite is true: He welcomes the interest, even if some of it is awakened by a perceived failure of Republicans to adhere to party principles.

“I don’t feel a bit threatened,’’ Gleason said. “I’ve met with them. My doors are open.’’

Rather, Gleason views the movement as like many before it: Disgusted voters who sat out an election or two and are returning

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