Tea Party Revs Up Bus Tour, Rolls Through Iowa

Jun 20, 2011
Originally published on August 24, 2011 11:53 am

The Iowa caucuses are the first big test of the nominating process, but the 2012 caucuses will also provide the first big test in a presidential contest for the Tea Party, which was formed during President Obama's first year in office.

The Iowa caucuses are now less than eight months away, and the field of Republican candidates is still taking shape, but the Iowa Tea Party has begun its own campaign, in the form of a three-week-long bus tour across the state.

The bus is actually a giant RV with a banner on the side that features images of the U.S. constitution, the American Flag and the web address "www.teapartybustour.com."

It stopped by a city park in the town of Spencer, located in the northwest part of the state. The actual event is not the kind of noisy Tea Party rally that became a staple of the 2010 campaign. This time it's about 20 people in a small community room at the park.

"Well first off I want to thank everybody for coming out here today, especially on a beautiful day here," says Ryan Rhodes, director of the Iowa Tea Party. "I hope this will be very useful to everybody coming."

Effective Campaigning

There are a lot of Tea Party movement staples here: A handful of speakers, one representing a national organization promoting a return to the gold standard. That group is helping to underwrite the bus tour. Another group calls for the elimination of the Department of Education. President Obama is skewered and his Christianity is called into question.

But the biggest chunk of time is devoted to a Power Point presentation about effective campaign organizing.

Ryan Adams of the Leadership Institute explains what a precinct voter list looks like and what campaigners should look for.

It's a presentation not unlike those any activist in any political party might sit through. And the Iowa Tea Party thinks it's something its members — many of whom are relatively new to politics — need to know.

But there is also plenty of talk, outside and during breaks, about the GOP field and how the race is shaping up so far.

Rhodes says he has not picked a candidate yet, but he quickly adds that it won't be Mitt Romney. In fact he was disappointed in last week's debate. He says Romney was treated with kid gloves by the others on the stage, especially former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who backed off on earlier attacks on Romney's Massachusetts health car law.

"I think some of those candidates need to get out there and prove that if they're gonna beat the front runner that they're willing to take those tough shots," he says.

But surprisingly, Romney also found a bit of support in this Tea Party crowd. Rhoda Kaiser, 83, is from the nearby town of Milford.

"Well I was for Romney the first time, last time," she says. "But I like Romney and I like his whole family. I just think they're a wonderful family and I think he'll try."

A Split Vote?

Tea Party growth nationally was fueled by opposition to the health care bill Obama pushed for and signed into law last year. And there's anger over deficits, taxes and federal government intrusion.

But in Iowa the Republican Party is dominated by evangelicals and Christian conservatives and some of that bleeds over into the Tea Party. State Rep. Tom Shaw spoke to the gathering in Spencer.

"Now, a lot of people say 'But Mr. Shaw, it's all about the economy, stupid! Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! We've got to have the economy!'" he says. "Well I'm telling you, it ties right back in ... How do we expect to have moral men to run our nation's government, our states' governments, work on the economy if they don't have the basic morality to preserve innocent life?"

But Dan Rogers, a tea party activist from Spirit Lake, Iowa, says the economy is the main issue and he sees several acceptable candidates in the field. He likes Ron Paul best but ultimately hopes the Tea Party can unite behind one candidate in the caucuses.

"The problem will be if it's split amongst several candidates — the Tea Party vote — if it's split between Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Bachmann," he says. "But I'm afraid the Tea Party voice might be split amongst several candidates, and you could end up getting Romney."

Rogers says because of that it's hard to predict if the Tea Party can have the kind of impact it had in 2010. But the state Tea Party says that's what this bus tour is about. To make sure its members know these candidates inside and out, and to remind them what's at stake.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

NPR's Don Gonyea caught up with the bus on one of its stops.

DON GONYEA: The bus is actually a giant RV. A banner on the side features images of the U.S. Constitution, the American Flag, and the web address www.teapartybustour.com.

(SOUNDBITE OF BUS HORN)

GONYEA: This is a city park in the town of Spencer, Iowa in the northwest part of the state. The actual event is not one of those big Tea Party rallies like we saw during the 2010 campaign. This time it's about 20 people in a small community meeting room.

RYAN RHODES: Well first off I want to thank everybody for coming out here today, it's - especially on a beautiful day here. I hope this will be very useful to everybody coming.

GONYEA: Ryan Rhodes is one of the tour's organizers. There are a lot of Tea Party movement staples here: a handful of speakers, one promoting a return to the gold standard, another calling for the elimination of the Department of Education. Questions about President Obama's religion are raised by one. But the biggest chunk of time is devoted to a PowerPoint presentation about effective campaign organizing.

RHODES: Here's a sample precinct voter list. As you'll see there's the ID number which is totally meaningless. Someone's full name, how they're registered to vote, their address, probably the most important piece of information is their address.

GONYEA: It's the kind of presentation that any activist in any political party might sit through. And the Iowa Tea Party thinks it's something it's members, many of whom are relatively new to politics, need to know. But there is also plenty of talk, outside and during breaks, about the GOP field. Ryan Rhodes says he has not picked a candidate yet, but quickly adds that it won't be Mitt Romney. He says he was disappointed that in the last debate, Romney was treated with kid-gloves, especially on health care.

RHODES: I think some of those candidates need to get out there and prove that if they're going to beat the front runner that they're willing to take those tough shots.

GONYEA: But, Romney did have some support in this Tea Party crowd. Eighty- three-year-old Rhoda Kaiser is from the nearby town of Milford.

RHODA KAISER: Well I was for Romney the first time, last time. But I like Romney and I like his whole family. I just think they're a wonderful family and I think that he'll try.

GONYEA: Tea Party growth was fueled by opposition to the health care bill President Obama signed into law last year. And much of the focus, overall, is on fiscal matters. But in Iowa, the Republican Party is dominated by Christian conservatives, and some of that emphasis turns up in the Tea Party as well. State Representative Tom Shaw spoke to the gathering in Spencer.

TOM SHAW: Now, a lot of people say but Mr. Shaw, it's all about the economy stupid! You know, jobs, jobs, jobs! We've got to have the economy! How do we expect to have moral men to run our nation's government, our state governments, work on the economy, if they don't have the basic morality to preserve innocent life?

GONYEA: But Dan Rogers, a tea party activist from Spirit Lake, insists the economy and fiscal issues are the most important. He likes Ron Paul the best, but recognizes there is no consensus within the movement.

DAN ROGERS: The problem will be if it's split amongst several candidates, the Tea Party vote; if it's split between Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Bachmann. But I'm afraid you could end up, you know, splitting the vote and getting Romney even though he might only have the support of 30 to 40 percent.

GONYEA: That's why the Tea Party impact may not be what it was in 2010, says Rogers.

ROGERS: Don Gonyea. NPR News

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