WASHINGTON — On a Saturday in August when most of the political class has escaped this city’s swelter, 50 Tea Party leaders have flown in from across the country to jam into a conference room in an office building on Pennsylvania Avenue, apparently unconcerned that the fancy address does not guarantee air-conditioning on weekends. They have come to learn how to take over the country, voter by voter.
Look for houses with flags, they are instructed; their residents tend to be patriotic conservatives. Marine flags or religious symbols, ditto. Take doggie treats with you as you canvass neighborhoods — “Now they are your best friend; it’s dog person to dog person.” Don’t just hand out yard signs and bumper stickers for your candidate — offer to plant them on the lawn or paste them on the bumper (front driver’s side works best.) Follow up with thank you notes, the handwritten kind. Be polite, and don’t take rejection personally: “Remember, it’s for freedom!”
This is a three-day “boot camp” at FreedomWorks, the Washington advocacy group that has done more than any other organization to build the Tea Party movement. For 18 months, the group’s young staff has been conducting training sessions like this one across the country, in hotel conference rooms or basements of bars, shaping the inchoate anger of the Tea Party with its libertarian ideology and leftist organizing tactics.
The goal is to turn local Tea Party groups into a standing get-out-the-vote operation in Congressional districts across the country. Sarah Palin made community organizing a term of derision during the 2008 presidential campaign; FreedomWorks has made Tea Party conservatives the surprise community organizing force of the 2010 midterm elections, showing on-the-ground strength in races like the Republican primary for the Senate in Alaska on Tuesday, where the upstart Joe Miller was leading Senator Lisa Murkowski in a race that may take weeks to call.