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Strange forces make this unusual political year

ATLANTA --- The Tea Party movement would not normally be expected to have a major impact on elections because it's too fragmented, but this isn't a normal year.

The 11 candidates running as independents and the forecast for a very low turnout could give this group of disenchanted taxpayers greater leverage.

The lingering effects of the recent recession make this year very different. Other recessions have torpedoed incumbents' careers, such as President George H.W. Bush in 1988 when Bill Clinton reminded us, "It's the economy, stupid." That was a tough year for anyone running on a Republican ballot.

Dissatisfaction that year spawned support for Ross Perot's third-party candidacy, but his party sputtered and disappeared a few short years later without his money and personality to keep it focused.

One of the differences this year with the Tea Party is the lack of a central leader. The movement sprang up from the grassroots long before talk show hosts like Sean Hanity or politicians like Sarah Palin scrambled to get out in front of it.

And even today, 18 months or so into the movement, there's no central organization or party structure.

Yet, there are candidates who are part of the movement. Some are traditional, conservative Republicans like Tom Graves who was elected to Congress in a special election last month. Or Preston Smith, a maverick state senator who lost his committee chairmanship for bucking the GOP party leadership and became a Tea Party favorite at the same time, prompting him to launch a campaign for attorney general.

Then there are Ray McBerry and Jeff Chapman, two poorly funded candidates for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. McBerry hasn't filed the required campaign-donation report with the State Ethics Commission as of the Thursday deadline, and most observers figure he has little money since he only reported donations of $136,000 in March. But he claims to have 2,300 volunteers, and he's won several straw polls at rallies hosted by various Tea Party groups.

The unheard of number of candidates trying to mount independent campaigns could provide structure for the movement.

The candidates' organizations will supplement the e-mail lists and online communications networks of the Tea Parties in a way that's similar to the logistics that Perot's money provided in 1988.

(Walter Jones is the Atlanta bureau chief for Morris News and has covered Georgia politics since 1998. He can be reached at (404) 589-8424 or

Web posted on Thursday, July 15, 2010

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