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Virginia Tea Party Convention Takeaways

Over 2,300 Tea Party patriots from all over Virginia and the rest of the country turned out for the first ever Virginia Tea Party Convention in Richmond this past Friday and Saturday.  It was the largest convention of its kind nationally in the short history of the movement.  

Attendees spanned all ages, races, and socio-economic levels.  There was also a mix of those who have been active in politics for years and those who are new to the process.  Together, they share the view that the Tea Party is the only viable option to return America to her founders’ principles and save the nation.

Potential 2012 presidential candidates, national pundits, commentators, and elected officials riled up the audience with messages of smaller constitutional government, free markets, lower taxes, and overturning Obamacare.  

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli summed up the sentiment of most by saying to thunderous applause, "I don't think there'd be a tea party if the Republican Party had been a party of limited government in the first part of this decade.”  He said this with two prominent Republicans from the first part of the previous decade seated squarely behind him, former Virginia Senator and Governor George Allen and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum.  Needless to say, they did not share in the applause, and the symbolism couldn’t have been clearer.

In between speeches, dozens of break-out sessions were held to educate the attendees about the role of the Constitution, organizing tea parties, reaching out to African Americans, and much more.

Making national news was the presidential straw poll.  New Jersey Governor Chris Christie edged out former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin by half a point to win the poll.  Rounding out the top five were Rep. Ron Paul, who spoke at the event, former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and Senator Jim Demint.

My takeaways from the convention:

1) Tea Party positions itself as GOP “watchdog” post November 2

The Tea Party is not taking November 2 for granted, but they do feel they did a lot to cleanse the Republican Party in 2010 and were very proud of this accomplishment.  Confidence is high heading into Election Day just three short weeks away.

However, moving on after the election was a major focus of the convention.

National Tea Party leader, Jenny Beth Martin, said at the opening of the convention,  “We’re in the middle of a cultural war and we’re going to have to be committed for the long haul.”  She referenced a political elite in Washington, DC from the White House to members of Congress all they way down to the staffers who have forgotten where the power comes from.  She said if the new Congress doesn’t remember, the Tea Party will have to remind them again in two years.

Herman Cain continued this message on day two of the convention.  He said the Tea Party needs to keep fighting because this isn’t a done deal and we need to hold our new representatives accountable.

Cain concluded, “The United States of America is not going to become the United States of Europe, not on our watch.”

2) Ken Cuccinelli becomes Tea Party standard bearer 

If a speaker wanted applause, all they needed to do was mention the Virginia Attorney General by name.  Nearly everyone in attendance sported a “Cuccinelli for Attorney General” leftover campaign sticker and many were wearing “Cuccinelli for President” stickers.

There’s really no point to keeping the old campaign stickers, as there’s no way the Tea Party is going to let Cuccinelli idle in that position for a second term.  The sky has become the limit for the Attorney General.  Many at the convention want to see Cuccinelli run for the U.S. Senate in 2012 or the Governor’s mansion in 2013 -- at the very least.

Cuccinelli finally spoke to the convention as part of a national policy panel on Saturday afternoon along side Allen, Santorum, and Rep. Steve King.  Cuccinelli’s introductory applause lasted twice as long as Allen’s and was twice as loud.

Using a mix of humor and historical context, he defined the Obamacare lawsuit as a symbol.  It’s about liberty, according to Cuccinelli, and defeat in the case would mean the end of federalism.

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