Although I’ve likely been to more tea party meetings that most people who read this article, all of these meetings have taken place within the Shenandoah Valley. Last week, however, I had the opportunity to meet with two groups outside the region.
The first gathering took place in the town of Montross, Virginia on May 15th. For those unfamiliar with Virginia geography, Montross is in the Northern Neck, the northern most peninsula of the state. As you might imagine, it is a pretty rural area. This tea party mainly draws from the citizens of Westmoreland County, a county comprised of 17,454 people as of the 2010 census. Despite this relatively small population base, the tea party still boasted a turnout of 25 people.
The second meeting was the Mechanicsville Tea Party on May 17th. 49 people attended this assembly. Mechanicsville, for those who don’t know, is an unincorporated community of 34,648 folks in Hanover County, a few miles north of the city of Richmond. Apparently, there are a whole host of tea party organizations in and around the city of Richmond including several in Hanover County itself.
The featured speaker at these two events was Parke West of We rVirginia. We rVirginia is a relatively new group; their purpose is to educate, activate, and inspire conservatives throughout the Commonwealth in order to elect likeminded legislators in the 2012 election cycle. Part of their technology includes the rVotes system, a database and program similar to the Republican Party’s Voter Vault.
One common thread I noticed between the two tea parties was the high level of support for Jamie Radtke for Senate. Although Jamie Radtke won the most recent straw poll in the Harrisonburg and Staunton Tea Parties, apparently, she has an even stronger following in other regions of the state. For example, approximately one out of every three of members of both the Montross and Mechanicsville Tea Party meetings self-identified as an active volunteer with the Radtke campaign. How will the efforts of this multitude of volunteers impact the June 12th Republican Senate primary?
Another interesting tidbit to note was the complete lack of Cantor materials at the Mechanicsville Tea Party. Although I would argue that Karen Kwiatkowski is the tea party favorite in the June 12th Republican primary for the 6th district, Representative Bob Goodlatte still makes an attempt to reach out to the Shenandoah Valley Tea Parties. However, at the Mechanicsville meeting, there were neither Cantor campaign signs nor his literature. By contrast, I could easily find brochures for his opponent, Floyd Bayne. I have to wonder, is this situation an anomaly? Do many of the grassroots organization in the 7th congressional district oppose majority leader Eric Cantor? Or has his campaign simply chosen to ignore tea party groups like Mechanicsville?
Although it is easy to assume that all tea party groups are the same given that each presumably adhere to the Constitution and the ideals of limited government, it is also true each are comprised of a variety members who each hold a multitude of beliefs, have differing levels of political experience, and view the world through their own personal lenses. I look forward to learning about other tea party organizations as we strive to promote our shared principles in 2012 and beyond.