Republican candidates scramble to bring Tea Party into GOP fold

By Sean J. Miller -The Hill

Republican candidates and party officials are trying to lure Tea Party activists into the fold in order to stave off a splintering of the conservative base ahead of the midterm elections.

The Republican National Committee is scrambling to open field offices in targeted states as part of its “Delaware to Hawaii” (D2H) grassroots outreach program.

In Nevada, the Clark County Republican Party is opening a phone bank in Las Vegas later this week specifically for Tea Party members to conduct voter outreach, party officials said.

And from Tennessee to Arizona, Republican candidates are turning up at Tea Party-sponsored events to rail against government spending.

The debate over healthcare and the stimulus program galvanized conservative activists to become politically active much earlier this cycle.

“I think the RNC should be talking about those issues and making sure that the Tea Party folks know they have a home at the Republican Party,” said Chip Saltsman, a Republican consultant who ran for the RNC chairmanship last year.

Observers note that the lack of a robust party infrastructure to capture the Tea Party’s energy could hamper the GOP’s chances in November. Democrats don’t have fond memories of the 2004 cycle, when groups such as America Coming Together (ACT) and drained money and volunteers away from Democratic campaigns. The liberal groups worked to defeat President George W. Bush and other Republican candidates, but they frequently duplicated the party efforts and were ultimately unsuccessful.

“One of the reasons why you’re seeing such an aggressive outreach from Republicans to the Tea Parties is a lot if it is being able to control and direct the movement,” said Steve Schale, a Florida-based Democratic consultant. “It’s very hard to have a sort of smart run, sort of scientific grassroots operation if you’ve got lots of disparate groups out there doing their own stuff.”

But Tea Party activists say they’re reluctant to join a party they view as complicit in the government spending that led to the growth of the deficit.

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