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Will Searchlight and Sarah Palin fuel 'tea party' anger or organization?

March 30, 2010 |  4:40 pm

Republican Sarah Palin greets thousands of fans at Nevada Tea Party rally 3-27-10

Since "tea party" members at “Showdown in Searchlight” probably needed a few days to scrape dust off their cars, now might be a good time to discuss a more vital question than whether thousands of protesters swamped the Nevada town (which, indeed, they did):

Does the "tea party" movement have staying power?

It’s a question that we members of the “lame-stream media” (we heart you, too, Sarah Palin) have been pondering in recent days.

• The NY Times wondered whether the protest movement would survive after the economy rebounded, since a number of activists are unemployed. 

• The Journal looked at whether GOP races over-saturated with "tea party" activists might hurt the Republican Party.

• The L.A. Times examined Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s reelection campaign in Nevada, a high-profile test of "tea party" activists’ (potential lack of) unity.

Were there any clues in Searchlight? Perhaps. There was an impressive turnout – about....

...9,000 people, according to police – in the two-casino, one-motel town. They stuck around despite the cold, fierce wind, sprays of dust and 38 overwhelmed portable toilets, at least until Palin spoke.

That’s a lot of passionate folks potentially knocking on doors and registering voters for November’s election.

But, as the Las Vegas Sun pointed out, the event had no candidate booths and no one collecting the crowd’s contact information in an organized fashion – both ways to turn momentum into votes.

And none of the top GOP contenders to oust Reid – including Sue Lowden, Danny Tarkanian and "tea party" darling Sharron Angle – spoke until hours after Palin and thousands of her fans had left. Presumably, some long-gone activists were registered to vote in Nevada.

There was also little direction from chief organizer, Tea Party Express, on which of the myriad Nevada candidates might best fit with the movement’s fiscally conservative principles, though California Assemblyman Chuck DeVore won the group’s backing in that state’s GOP Senate primary.

Instead, speakers devoted a lot of time to questioning whether racial slurs were actually hurled at African American Democratic congressmen earlier this month and to lambasting the press, which organizers had invited to the event.

Two things we can say with confidence:

1) One of the more interesting dynamics of the 2010 elections will be whether "tea party" members can channel anger into electoral might.

2) Searchlight is very dusty.

Related items:

Armed and dangerous, Sarah Palin fires up metaphors on both sides

Video and commentary on Sarah Palin's Searchlight appearance

Would you buy a Republican book from this man?

Tea Party loves 'Effing Big Deal' T-shirts

-- Ashley Powers

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Photo: Jae C. Hong / Associated Press