The Tea Party has been relatively quiet during the presidential election but supporters of the right-wing movement which burst on to the political scene three years ago say it has not gone away.
“They say that the Tea Party is dead because we’re not probably as active out there with rallies,” said Nancy Schiffman, 75, president of the Tea Party Patriots in Prince William County in the southern state of Virginia.
“Initially, when the Tea Party first started back in 2009, the rallies were the only way to express ourselves as a group,” Schiffman said.
“Now (people) know who we are,” she said, and the Tea Party movement has become a force to be reckoned with.
The loose coalition of conservative groups is unified by several key principles: a desire for a radically reduced role for government, lower taxes, an end to deficit spending, and a scrupulous adherence to the US Constitution.
Just two years after Democrat Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election, Tea Party candidates enjoyed a wave of success in a 2010 midterm election that handed control of the US House of Representatives to the Republican Party.
Schiffman said her Tea Party branch, which has around 700 members in Prince William County, has been lying low ahead of the November 6 contest for the White House between Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney.
Instead, Schiffman and her husband Yale, 74, have been spending their time focusing on local elections, ballot initiatives within their state and education measures in the schools.
Kevin McCarthy, 61, a Tea Party activist, said the continued influence of the movement can be measured by the impact it is having down-ticket — in races for governor, senator, the House or Representatives and other contests.
“The Tea party focuses not only on big issues, but on local elections too,” McCarthy said.
The Tea Party movement has come to wield considerable clout in setting the Republican agenda in its brief existence but it was unable to prevent Romney — seen by many as not being conservative enough — from winning the presidential nomination.
Other Republican candidates for the nomination such as former pizza executive Herman Cain, US lawmaker Michele Bachmann, former House speaker Newt Gingrich and even Libertarian-leaning Republican lawmaker Ron Paul were seen by some in the Tea Party as being more in line with their principles.
“There was definitely not an initial consensus (on a candidate),” McCarthy said.
As governor of traditionally Democratic Massachusetts, Romney was viewed as a centrist, embracing policies that included backing a woman’s right to have an abortion and a medical insurance reform overhaul that ended up providing the template for Obama’s health care reform.
But since Romney’s nomination, the Tea Party, like other conservative groups, has rallied around the multi-millionaire businessman — spurred by their intense dislike of Obama and their ardent wish to see him defeated.
As the presidential election approaches, the Schiffmans have come together behind Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, the congressman from Wisconsin.
“I think Romney did very well (in the debates),” Nancy Schiffman said. “He certainly impressed people and now the polls have changed, the dynamic has changed.”
“Especially in the first debate, Romney did very well and Obama was terrible,” McCarthy said. “In the last few days, and I think it will continue, the undecided voters are really trending towards Romney.”
“Strategically Romney linked the idea of a strong American foreign policy to a strong economy at home, that was very good,” he said.
Alluding to high gas prices, McCarthy added that “everytime you go to pump gas it’s a political commercial for Romney.”
And while McCarthy has thrown his support behind the former Massachusetts governor, he wistfully points to another former governor — Ronald Reagan — as the truly ideal Tea Party candidate.
“He really understood how the presidency is supposed to run, how this country is supposed to run,” McCarthy said of Reagan, who served as governor of California before going on to serve two terms in the White House.