CONCORD N.H., (Jan. 9, 2012) — For this year’s primary, the Tea Party is playing more of the strong silent type.
No big Tea Party rallies. No Tea Party town hall meetings. No Tea Party endorsements. No Tea Party protests on New Hampshire streets.
Instead, say Tea Party organizers, the anti-government movement has decided to keep a low profile and encourage members to go their own way.
“The New Hampshire Tea Party is a statewide coalition of many different groups who do many different things, said Jane Aitken, New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition leader. “And we had decided early on that we wouldn’t endorse one candidate over the entire group but just try to educate voters. And that’s what’s so unique about us.”
In Tea Party tactics, some members are endorsing candidates on their own, not as representatives of the movement. Aitken, for example, is giving her personal endorsement to Republican hopeful and libertarian Ron Paul. Individual endorsements, she said, can be effective in a crucial election. “Even individual support helps us,” Aitken said.
Lisa Galven, a United States Postal Service worker and member of the Greater Manchester 912 Tea Party group, supports the group’s decision to rely on personal endorsments and is also standing behind Paul. “I’m done just voting for the person getting elected,” she said. “If everyone would get behind one person it would help. But it is what it is and that’s what the tea party is all about. We’re a bunch of individuals and we’re not going to agree on one thing or person and that’s the beauty of it.”
The Tea Party’s comparative quiet is a shock to Christopher Galdiere, political scientist at Saint Anselm College. “In 2010 the tea party was the X-factor in New Hampshire,” he said. “Surprisingly there’s been very little discussion about them and I think that it’s because of the candidates running.”
The candidates are so varied, he said, that it’s hard for the Tea Party to unite behind a single one. Each candidate has had a different attraction for individual tea party members. Each candidate has either gained or lost support from the group over the course of many months, he said.
The party’s unwillingness to delegate a leader, he said, could also prove to be it’s biggest weakness. “Tea parties are sort of leaderless organizations from my perspective,” Galdiere said. “And because they don’t have any real representative, they can be all over the map and that can sometimes be more of a hindrance.”
Kevin Kervick, a family therapist and writer, is a member of the tea party group called A Place for Possibilities. He originally saw the tea party movement as an exciting and having the potential to change America for the better, he said. Now he’s not so certain that the party can be effective.
“I think it’s a very diffused movement by their own doing and maybe a new brand needs to be establish,” he said.
Sal Russo, co-founder and strategist of the “Tea Party Express,” suggests the movement can be effective without the usual events and rallies. “The tea party isn’t about the people holding the signs, Russo said. “There are other people—those who may not even know that they believe in the tea party— who agree with our issues and try to make a difference.”
He also casts the diversity in support of different candidates as a win-win situation. “I consider it a victory,” he said, “that we would be satisfied with all of the candidates that are currently in the race.”
Richard Bloom, organizer of the “Concord Area 912” tea party group, praised the movement’s decision to encourage individual choice among the candidates. “It would hurt the Tea Party more to endorse than not to endorse,” he said. “We vote for the people who meet our needs and if we must do that as individuals then so be it.”
Bloom insists that the group has plenty of supporters who share its ideals. “Our Tea Party members,” he said, “are not just sign-toting groups.”
(Sistina Giordano, a graduate student in the magazine, newspaper and online journalism program at Syracuse University, is covering the New Hampshire primary for The Citizen of Auburn, N.Y.)