The Republican National Convention will be shortened one day by bad weather, but activists from the conservative Tea Party movement heralded advancing Tropical Storm Isaac as a timely symbol of big changes ahead after November’s election.
“We are looking at a hurricane here in Florida,” said Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party founder and conservative member of the House of Representatives, late Sunday to a rally Christian conservatives and Tea Party faithful on the margins of the convention.
“We’re looking at a political hurricane,” she said in a speech electrifying her supporters. “We’re looking at a spiritual hurricane,” she said, further whipping up the crowd.
The Tea Party — a powerful Republican faction responsible in large part for the return of the House of Representatives to Republican control in 2010 — is to play a relatively small role at this week’s convention, which has been curtailed from a four-day gathering to just three here in the Gulf Coast city of Tampa.
But they made a show of force at the afternoon and evening of rallies and prayer meetings Sunday at a local mega-church — an event meant to rouse the support of this most conservative of the Republican party’s faithful.
“It’s time for each of us to show up and suit up and stand up,” Bachmann exhorted the crowd, to thunderous applause.
The meeting here, several miles away from the official Republican convention events downtown, provided a needed outlet for conservatives who have always been lukewarm toward former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who this week will formally named the party’s presidential nominee.
The pre-convention gathering at The River at Tampa Bay Church, which was billed as a “unity rally,” gave conservatives a chance to celebrate their considerable clout in the Republican party after scarcely three years’ existence.
At a different forum earlier Sunday however, another Tea Party favorite was in a far less conciliatory mood.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul, a perennial presidential contender, including his failed bid earlier this year, led a rally of devoted followers Sunday, in sounding almost defiant as he exhorted his followers to continue to press for greater change from within the party.
Paul, 77, who is leaving Congress at the end of this year, was not given a speaking role at this year’s convention, despite being one of the Republicans’ most prominent figures — although he is to be celebrated with a video tribute on Tuesday.
“Believe me, we will get in the tent because we will become the tent eventually,” he said.
“With the energy that we have, it seems to me they would be begging and pleading for us to come into the party,” he said at a rally in a separate venue that preceded Tea Party rally.
Bachmann presidential ambitions fizzled out earlier this year, as did those of another speaker at Sunday’s event — former pizza business executive Herman Cain.
Bachmann faltered over a series of of gaffes and missteps, while Cain’s candidacy unraveled largely because of a sex scandal and the perception that his campaign was driven by little more than his “9-9-9” tax reform program that he recited so often it became a subject of parody.
Both however remain beloved figures among conservative Republicans.
Of the roughly 2,000 people in attendance was Steve Haller, who said he drove all the way from Louisiana to be attend the Tea Party event, who said he hoped it would bring the various disparate factions of the party together.
“I expect unity from this night’s event this is about bringing everyone together,” he said, adding that the party’s various factions needed to come coalesce around Romney’s candidacy to ensure Democratic President Barack Obama’s defeat this fall.
His aim is to bring the US down to its knees. I don’t want that,” he said.
“I’m not against Obama, I’m for America. Obama’s the one who’s against America,” said Haller.
Under a red, white and blue umbrella, Maryann Kempf also said the Tea Party’s message lined up with her own beliefs and said it played an essential role in Republican politics.
“Conservatism needs to rule the day to get this country back on track,” she said.
The Tea Party is a constant reminder of conservatism and the need to stop spending,” she said.