South Carolina tea party groups are trying to build a coordinated, statewide network of activists.
About 30 groups – or roughly half of the state’s self-titled liberty movement – met in Columbia on Saturday to discuss a formal affiliation with the national Tea Party Patriots organization. Local groups would be free to set their own agendas but would have access to the national group’s research, advice and resources – such as its weekly Monday conference calls.
About three-quarters of the groups at the meeting said they were interested in participating in the new umbrella group.
The State newspaper was invited to attend the meeting but could not report on conversations during the five-hour event.
State Tea Party groups have struggled with growing pains since the first Greenville rally early last year, with leaders disagreeing about whether to endorse candidates or how closely to work with the S.C. Republican Party. Those disagreements left some bad blood among the groups. And some activists have been suspicious of the motives – and funding – of national Tea Party groups.
“I have an appreciation of the integrity and reputation of the Tea Party Patriots,” said Karen Martin with the Spartanburg Tea Party, who left Saturday’s meeting optimistic about a statewide umbrella group. “So many groups have strayed and don’t have the pure activist intent. I was very suspicious.”
Martin said a coalition of 20 Upstate groups is coordinating their efforts.
The Tea Party also has been successful changing the state’s political debate, turning on-the-record legislative voting into a winning issue for Gov.-elect Nikki Haley and challenging candidates with whom members disagreed in Republican State House primaries. Candidates often eschewed the “Republican” label in favor of “conservative” during the 2010 cycle.
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