Top 6 most covered Tea Party news stories of the year

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Tea Party activists often say the media ignored them when the movement burst onto the political scene in 2009.

They can’t say the same thing about 2010.

Thousands of articles were written over the last 12 months about Tea Party activists, whether it had to do with Scott Brown’s election to the Senate, President Obama’s health-care bill or the year’s midterm elections.

As we look back on those articles, here’s our list of the top 6 of the most covered Tea Party news stories this year:

1. Scott Brown wins Massachusetts Senate seat

It was the Tea Party’s first major political victory: a Republican pledging to vote against President Obama’s health care bill won the Massachusetts Senate seat long-held by the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Tea Party sympathizers from across the country poured money into Brown’s campaign coffers. When he defeated Democrat Martha Coakley, it was viewed as a sign that the Tea Party’s energy was for real — and could be translated into political results.

The most immediate effect, however, was that after Brown’s election, some even declared Obamacare dead. His election was a major setback for Obama’s hopes of getting health care passed in the Senate, as it gave Democrats one less vote than the 60 needed for a filibuster-proof total.

2. Tea Party vows vengeance on members of Congress who voted for health-care

Well, Obamacare turned out not to be so dead, as Democrats found a way to still get it through the House and onto the president’s desk.

But Tea Partiers sure made it a lot harder too pass. They held rallies, and some even came to Washington to storm the halls of Congress to demand that members votes against the legislation.

The passage of the legislation only energized the conservative, grassroots activists even more. They turned their attention to getting revenge at the polls.

The first casualty of this was Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak, who led a group of pro-life Democrats opposed to the bill because of concerns about federal funding of abortion. When his last minute deal with the Democrat leadership allowed the bill to pass, Tea Partiers started donating money to his Republican opponent, and the Tea Party Express named him a top target for defeat.

Before too long, Stupak announced he was retiring his seat and not running for re-election.

3. Tea Partiers fight the racism charge

The narrative pushed by opponents of Tea Party activists that the movement is made up of racists really picked up steam when a number of black members of Congress claimed activists yelled racial epithets at them outside the Capitol.

Despite the absence of any video footage of the alleged remarks, a number of media outlets used the reports to accuse the 25,000-plus activists who protested at the Capitol the weekend of the health care vote of hating not simply President Obama’s health care bill, but all black people.

Unsurprisingly, the Tea Partiers rejected the characterization.

“The media ran with these allegations and made that practically the only mention of the event,” said Brendan Steinhauser, a FreedomWorks staffer who organized anti-health care legislation rallies.

While activists were exhausted rebutting such allegations, a well-known activist, Mark Williams, did not help the cause when he was forced to resign from the Tea Party Express after coming under fire earlier for a racially tinged satirical blogpost about the NAACP.

4. DeMint backs Marco Rubio, Rand Paul; TPX gets behind Angle, O’Donnell and Miller

Perhaps the most lasting effect the Tea Party movement will have on politics in 2010 was the nomination of anti-establishment Republicans in GOP primaries.

Conservative kingmaker South Carolina Sen. Jim DeMint helped get the ball rolling, for example, in Florida by endorsing Marco Rubio and in Kentucky, by getting behind Rand Paul. Both were considered long-shot outsiders at first, but rode the wave of local Tea Party support to victories in their primaries — and later the general election.

But these in other cases, the Tea Party-backed Republicans may have lost the GOP seats they should’ve won.

Case and point: The Tea Party Express. The California-based PAC pulled off remarkable feats — and made a name for themselves in the process — by helping Nevada’s Sharron Angle, Alaska’s Joe Miller and Delaware’s Christine O’Donnell win their primaries. But all went on to lose in the general.

A central argument made during the campaign season about Angle, O’Donnell and Miller was that they were considerably less electable in a general election contest than their primary opponents.

5. Sarah Palin keynotes Tea Party convention

By the time Judson Phillips, a Tennessee lawyer and founder of Tea Party Nation, announced he was holding the first National Tea Party convention in April, the press couldn’t ignore the movement anymore, and about 120 media organizations requested credentials to cover it.

The buzz surrounding the event intensified after Sarah Palin was booked to give the keynote and several well-known speakers, like Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, decided not to participate because of the high-ticket prices to attend.

The event was notable because organizers of the convention were essentially accused of being phonies who wanted to make a profit from the event, thus begging the question: who really is a real Tea Partier?

But convention spokesman Mark Skoda scoffed at the accusation then, saying no one should “apologize for being a capitalist.”

6. Is Sarah Palin running for president in 2012?

Will she or won’t she? Who knows. But that story will surely make next year’s list too.

Do you agree with this list? E-mail Alex Pappas and let him know.