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High Tea Or High Noon?

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Much ado has been made over the NC 8th Congressional District race, which grows stranger by the day.  With more plot twists than an indie film, this primary runoff election has it all: from The Big Guy to The Machine Gun, from threatened lawsuits to heroin, from the military-industrial complex to the sports segment on the nightly news, no race in recent memory has been so intriguing—and has stirred such raw emotion within the Republican Party.  This race has divided the Republican base much more so than most primaries, pitting the “tea party” against the “establishment.”

Or has it?

There is no doubt that there has been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the NC-8 tilt, with both Harold Johnson’s camp and Tim D’Annunzio’s supporters passionately advocating for their chosen candidate.  Neither side seems able to understand why the other side supports their chosen candidate.

“He doesn’t know the issues!”

“Yeah, well he thought he found the Ark of the Covenant!”

But when you cut through the noise surrounding this election, there is one group that has been fought over and claimed—by both campaigns:  the tea party movement.

Two tea party groups – We the People-Cabarrus, and We the People-Sandhills – have publicly endorsed D’Annunzio’s candidacy.  D’Annunzio’s campaign has been pushing the tea party vs. establishment storyline for some time now, running as the outsider to Washington politics.

D’Annunzio certainly does believe in the tea party principles of limited government, fiscal conservatism, and personal responsibility.  His beliefs, as well as the endorsement of certain tea party groups, have painted him as “the tea party candidate.”

Harold Johnson, for many years known affectionately around here as “The Big Guy”, has been running a much quieter campaign.  It’s true that he’s racked up a nice stack of endorsements, including a nuanced one by former Gov. Jim Martin and a not-so-subtle one by N.C. GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer.  Some say those endorsements prove that Johnson is a party stooge.  But Johnson has also racked up a few endorsements from tea party activists: Craig Nannini, Tariq Bokhari, Kristie Chapman, and Corey Thompson all endorsed Harold Johnson last week, making Johnson “the tea party candidate.”

Wait, that can’t be right. Can more than one candidate be “the tea party candidate” du jour? As Sarah Palin would say, “you betcha!”

You see, the tea party is a movement, not unlike other movements before it.  It’s a zeitgeist—a spirit of the times. It’s not organized by rules and boundaries, but rather by the people.  One tea party offshoot group, CAUTION, says that their mission is to “unite, inspire, and educate.”  That sums it up perfectly.  The tea party isn’t about creating another voter bloc or special interest group. It’s about creating informed voters that support the principles of limited government, fiscal conservatism, and personal responsibility. One tea partier may feel that a certain candidate best represents those principles, while another tea partier may feel that a different candidate does the same. Or maybe they identify with another candidate’s background, or prefer someone’s demeanor.

Is one tea partier a “sell out” because of their personal opinions? Of course not.  If the tea party is to create informed, free, and independent thinkers, then there cannot be any slap on the wrist for not toeing the line and supporting the “correct” candidate.  Remember, the tea party movement is open to Republicans, Democrats, and Independent voters. No single candidate, nor political party, has a “lock” on the term “tea party candidate.”

Some tea partiers may not support Johnson because they don’t think he has a grasp of the issues, and they are afraid that he will simply become a “party man”—the Grand Ole Party. If that is their opinion, then on June 22, they should pull the lever for D’Annunzio. On the other hand, some tea partiers may think that D’Annunzio’s past is simply too much for them to swallow. Does that mean they don’t believe in second chances or redemption? Of course not. It simply means that they also believe in accountability, and that one is still accountable in adulthood for sins committed in the youth.

Just today I received an email from the leader of a group that has endorsed D’Annunzio and speculated that tea partiers who support Johnson had perhaps “been compromised by operatives of the Republican Party.” Time and again I have read tweets, blogs, and comments on the Web from one tea partier criticizing another tea partier’s support of a particular candidate.  You think the Republican base is fracturing?  Take a look at some of the tea parties and individuals in those groups.  NC-8 is the San Andreas fault line, and this primary is an 8.0 on the political Richter scale.  Right now these groups and individuals are doing nothing more than ensuring the defeat of our movement, by pitting tea party vs. tea party. For them it’s high noon, a show down.

For the movement to continue to flourish across North Carolina, the tea parties must stop the in-fighting and the bickering. The “us vs. them” mentality will leave all of us out on the curb come November.  Whether Johnson or D’Annunzio wins the primary, all Republicans need to unite around the winning candidate come the morning of June 23.  Also, there is a very worthy Libertarian candidate, Thomas Hill, whom many tea partiers have supported from the beginning.

We have ignited an extraordinary fire within the hearts of people all across the state. If we unite around a single candidate, and devote the same energy into the general election as we have the primary, we will be unstoppable. We can share in the victory in November, and take satisfaction in knowing that together we got our tea party candidate into Congress.

High tea, or high noon?

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