In what organizers dubbed a "conservative Woodstock," several thousand Tea Party supporters gathered in Senate Majority Leader's Harry Reid's (D-NV) tiny home town of Searchlight, NV, Saturday for the kickoff rally of the Tea Party Express III: CountDown to Judgment Day. Here's what you need to know about this national tour:
In less than 35 words, what's the Tea Party Express III?
A three-bus caravan of Tea Party activists who plan to hold 42 Tea Party rallies, culminating in a Washington, D.C. event on tax day, April 15. It's funded by Our Country Deserves Better PAC. (This is the third such tour for the grassroots party. The last, Tea Party Express II, played out from October 25 to November 10, 2009.)
What's the goal of the tour?
Organizers say their message boils down to one word: "Enough!" The ultimate goal — reflected in the tour's slogan, "Just Vote Them Out!" — is to replace certain members of Congress, almost all Democrats, who support bigger government and health care reform.
Who's speaking at the gatherings?
Sarah Palin, who rallied the faithful in Searchlight and will speak once again in Boston on April 14, is the biggest draw. Her Searchlight speech focused on government spending, the health care law, and a defense of Tea Partiers from "lame-stream media" reports about violence and threats toward Democratic lawmakers.
What's behind the reference to a "conservative Woodstock"?
Spokesman Levi Russell says the Searchlight kickoff event was likened to the 1969 Woodstock Festival because "a huge number of people [came] to a unique place where the draw is."
So, how many people showed up in Searchlight?
Thousands. CNN reporter Fredricka Whitfield infuriated organizers with her preliminary estimate of "hundreds of people, at least dozens of people." The Las Vegas Sun, citing local police, says about 8,000 people attended the rally, mostly a "motley mix of Republicans, libertarians, gadflies, and disgruntled grandparents." Organizers claim that 20,000 Tea Partiers showed up. (The original Woodstock drew at least 400,000 people.)
Was it a success?
The event went smoothly, despite Tea Party reports that "Harry Reid supporters" had "egged" the buses as they headed into the desert. According to the Associated Press, Palin succeeded in firing up the crowd, denying media charges that she was "inciting violence," but declaring, "We’re not going to sit down and shut up." Geoff Schumacher in the Huffington Post was less impressed: "There also was a teenage boy playing patriotic tunes on the bagpipes. I appreciated his skill with this difficult instrument, if not the fact that his talents were being wasted on the side of a dusty highway in the middle of nowhere."
How about the other rallies?
The tour is in its first days, but organizers say 5,000 people joined the bus in Henderson, Nevada, and 1,200 turned out for a Phoenix rally.
Who else is on the tour?
Samuel "Joe The Plumber" Wurzelbacher, Andrew Breitbart, ex-Saturday Night Live comedian Victoria Jackson, Ann Coulter, and several musical acts were among the marquee names at the Searchlight rally or are scheduled to join the tour at various points.
Is Reid upset at the "Showdown in Searchlight"?
Reid is in a tough reelection race, but he kept his remarks on the lighter side: "Searchlight doesn't get many tourists so I'm glad they are choosing to bring all their out-of-state money to my hometown. The influx of money will do the town some good. I encourage everyone to drop by the Nugget to say hello to Verlie and grab a 10 cent cup of coffee."