NASHVILLE — Yes, there were the handful of Revolutionary War re-enactors with their powdered wigs and tri-corner hats. And the man with the T-shirt proclaiming himself a proud member of the “Tennessee MOB” — a poke at politicians who dismissed Tea Partiers as an “angry mob.” And one speaker did insist that Jesus’ birth was better documented than President Obama’s.
But 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.” (CONTINUES HERE)