At the inaugural National Tea Party Convention here this weekend, gone were the placards that protesters carried last year with Mr. Obama’s face wearing a Hitler mustache or superimposed on the Joker. Gone, really, were any placards, unless you count the poster of Sarah Palin in her signature red jacket that hung from one of the wrought-iron balconies of the Opryland Hotel and Convention Center.
Organizers said that anyone “looking too crazy” would have been tossed out. They had a goal that turned out to be shared by pretty much everyone here: to turn the Tea Party into a serious political force, rather than the angry fringe group they say it had been branded as.
“The movement is maturing,” said Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, the social networking site that sponsored the convention. “The rallies were good for last year, because that’s what we could do last year. This year we have to change things. We have got to win.”
The goal is a electing a conservative Congress in 2010 and a conservative president in 2012. To that end, organizers announced the formation of a political action committee that they say could steer $10 million to conservative challengers this year.
And the convention tried to channel anger into what Mr. Phillips called “Electioneering 101.” “What we want people to do is to leave here connected with other activists so they can recruit good candidates, get candidates exposed to the voters and get voters to the polls,” he said. “If we just go out and hold signs and protest, that’s not going to win the election.”
Despite the convention and its neat PowerPoint presentations, the movement that began a year ago to protest government bailouts and health care legislation showed signs this weekend that it is still inchoate, diverse and almost defiantly leaderless.
“This movement doesn’t need a leader,” said Anthony Shreeve of the Tennessee Tea Party Coalition, which did not take part this weekend but staged a counter news conference outside. “It’s a ‘We the People’ movement.”
The Tea Party may not have a leader, but the closest thing is Ms. Palin, who capped off the convention with a speech Saturday night urging the movement to action. “America is ready for another revolution,” she declared, as the crowd stood on chairs, waved flags, and chanted, “Run, Sarah, run!”
“All political power is inherent in the people,” she declared, “and government is supposed to be working for the people, that’s what this movement is all about.” ...
Apart from a man wearing a shirt made from an American flag, this did not have the confetti and balloon-drop feel of the typical party convention. It could have been an annual gathering of dentists or teachers (next door at the Opryland, a small planet of a hotel, was Blissdom, a gathering of female bloggers).
Delegates with nametags on lanyards browsed at campaign booths, including one set up for Judge Roy Moore, last in the national headlines for his fight to keep a monument of the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse and now running for Alabama governor. Vendors hawked T-shirts, sterling silver tea bag pendants and Tea Party coffee and tea (special convention price: $8 a bag) ...
If Tea Party advocates offer little admiration for Mr. Obama, they do often cite his campaign as a model because of the way it built a fortune from small donations and used social networking.
But the crowd here was largely middle-aged and older, and technology may not come as easily as it did to the young adults who powered Mr. Obama’s campaign. A session on “collaboration in the cloud-applied technology” got hung up on basics like how to do an effective Google search, buy a Web domain or send mass e-mail.