Categories: Tea Party Posted by Jefferson Adams on 9/28/2011 4:41 PM | Comments (0)


Type into your Web browser, and the roots of the upstart political movement are quickly exposed.

On the right are listings of Tea Party events across America — the latest of 6,000 events posted in the 18 months since the movement and Web site sprang up.

At the site's lower part are state-by-state lists of links to individual Tea Party groups — 2,400 in all, says Robert Gaudet, the software consultant who designed the site.

Online Shift

In the site's upper part, near links to Tea Party news, a Twitter feed and an iPod app, is a window to the Tea Party Patriots' Facebook page, with 436,767 fans as of Wednesday. That compares with 122,099 fans of the official Facebook page for the Democratic Party, acclaimed for using the Internet and other technology two years ago to carry President Obama and others into office.

Democrats and their allies dominated cyberspace for years. Now the political right, with the Tea Party explosion, at the very least is matching the left.

"There is no longer a first-mover advantage to Democrats," said Michael Bassik, senior vice president of Global Strategy Group, a research and consulting firm. "The new conventional wisdom is that Republicans are devoting significantly more resources to reach and persuade voters online."

Being out of power has fueled conservatives.

"Democrats had the online advantage for a few years because they were storming the castle," said Jon Henke, a political consultant. "Today, Republicans are storming the castle. In terms of campaigns, the Internet favors the side with the most motivation and energy."

This would explain the Tea Party's rise, which began in early 2009 with a handful of near-spontaneous protests against government spending and bailouts and exploded to become one of the most powerful forces in American politics today.

"The Tea Party movement rose quickly in response to policies Obama passed," said Nancy Scola, associate editor of the blog site "It was amazingly quick and caught a lot of people off guard."

Gaudet built the Tea Party Patriots' site from his home office in Bossier City, La. He had been watching the group as it started to gain momentum and, thinking it could use some help, began designing a site where supporters could post the day and time of rallies, meet ings and other organizing events.

The response was overwhelming.

"I stopped taking new work, left it all behind and started working full time for the Tea Party right away," Gaudet said.

The site has 127,000 registered members, with hundreds signing up each day. Along with other related sites he created, Gaudet estimates that he has an e-mail list of 1 million Tea Party enthusiasts.

The Social Network

The Internet has allowed the Tea Party movement to be radically decentralized. Really, the movement doesn't use social networking, it is social networking. No single leader sets priorities and marshals forces, yet activists have managed to channel huge sources and attention on political races and issues.

"Even without the Internet, the Tea Party would still have grown, but it has been absolutely critical in allowing people to connect, share and promote their events," Gaudet said.

The Internet has been integral to Tea Party successes with Senate GOP primaries in Nevada, Kentucky, Colorado, Florida and now Delaware.

"They have used the Internet as an organizing tool to reach, motivate and engage millions of Americans who are fed up with politics as usual," Bassik said. "It's clear the Web has been a very effective tool for this nascent political group."

It's not as if political campaigns are suddenly discovering that the Web is an effective medium to reach and persuade voters. Every campaign has a Web element.

But politicians are historically risk-averse, Bassik says. The difference in separating the winners from losers, aside from affiliation and convictions, often depends on who embraces the Web more boldly and creatively.

"For insurgent candidates it can be a powerful tool, especially for those who don't have the financial resources to advertise," Bassik said.

The Internet helped spark the presidential runs of Obama, Ron Paul and Howard Dean and has played a key role with the liberal site

Internet Success Stories

Recent Internet success stories on the political right include the triumph of Massachusetts Republican Scott Brown, who won a special Senate election in an upset over Democrat Martha Coakley.

Brown strategists made extensive use of e-mail lists, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Google tools among other Web techniques to motivate voters. Coakley lagged far behind on the technology front.

"You had Democratic strategists weeping at the degree Coakley gave up on the Web," Scola said. "The Web rewards hard work. Scott Brown turned up his online campaign while Coakley was not working very hard at it."

That's not true of all Democrats. Web savvy helped Dan Malloy win the party's nomination for governor in Connecticut against the much better known and far wealthier Ned Lamont.

"Malloy made the Internet an important part of his communications," Bassik said. "Malloy won even though being outspent by 4-to-1."


The Web's brief history suggests that the party out of power is more motivated and willing to take risks.

That's evident by Gaudet's passion.

He estimates forfeiting $100,000 in personal income by quitting his prior job, though he's now the paid national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots.

"I've been pushing to enable citizens to hold government accountable. There's been a lot of pain and sacrifice with my family to make this happen," said Gaudet, who is married with a 15-year-old son. "Our Founding Fathers talked about sacrificing fortune for our sacred honor. I have a better understanding now of what they were talking about."

The difference in 2010 from times past, Henke says, is the organization and mobilization achieved by citizens through their use of the Web.

"People are not following campaigns," he said. "The campaigns are following the people."

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