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Tea Partiers Mobilize to Steal Kennedy's Seat

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Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit

Leaders of the Tea Party movement are throwing their weight behind Republican Scott Brown's campaign for Ted Kennedy's vacated Senate seat. This is a significant departure from the movement's strategy thus far, which has been to nurture ultra-conservative third-party candidates. This time around the movement hopes to support a Republican victory, then claim Brown as a Tea Party Candidate.

Brown, a moderate, is running against Democrat Martha Coakley, and while Massachusetts is a heavily Democratic state, a new Rasmussen poll found Brown trailing Coakley by only nine points, 50 percent to 41 percent, with seven percent undecided.

"In fact," says the report, "among those who are absolutely certain they will vote, Brown pulls to within two points of Coakley."

The election is January 19th.

Spearheading this drive to support Brown are the people at TaxDayTeaParty.com, the group working with FreedomWorks to organize the April 15 Tax Day Tea Party in Washington, DC. TaxDayTeaParty.com is a pet project of Eric Odom, Executive Director of American Liberty Alliance (ALA), which both collaborates with and sponsors other Tea Party organizations, from the Tea Party Express bus tours to April's Patriot Caucus to the National Tea Party Convention. Odom hopes his perceived authority will be enough to direct the Tea Party movement into Brown's camp, and that victory would kill health care reform. He is calling for the movement to "throw all of [its] resources behind Brown" as they did for a Tea Party candidate's failed run for New York's 23rd Congressional District in November.

In a Jan 6 post on the Tax Day site, Odom calls the Massachussetts election "New York 23 all over, only better." He asks members to support Brown and "Take Back Boston!"

Odom justifies this move by pointing out this is only a two party race, with "no way to split the vote three ways." In other words, no pesky Tea Party candidate. He also claims that TaxDayTeaParty.com is gathering "a full crew of bloggers, campaign volunteers and poll watchers to travel to the district next week." Naturally the email also solicits funds for TaxDayTeaParty.com; as Odom puts it, "We need to raise some quick money to mount our campaign and go help Brown in this race." (To be fair, the very bottom of the email has a link to the main page Brown campaign website, should one wish to "donate/volunteer directly.")

The race for New York's 23rd Congressional district is an odd rallying cry, as the results were devastating for conservatives. Moderate Republican Dede Scozzafava, initially supported by the GOP, was viciously hounded by Tea Party activists and their proposed candidate, Doug Hoffman, who claimed Scozzafava wasn't Republican enough. Michelle Malkin called Scozzafava a "radical leftist." Hoffman received support from Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and, towards the end of the race, even the GOP itself, which began to distance themselves from Scozzafava.

The race became so contentious that Scozzafava suspended her campaign at the last moment and threw her support behind her Democratic opponent, Bill Owens, who went on to win the election. Some parts of NY-23 had not been represented by a Democrat since 1856 -- Franklin County in particular elected a Whig more recently than any Democrat.

The terrific defeat in New York 23 (for both the Republicans and the Tea Party movement) was so momentous as to coin a new verb: to Scozzafava; to run an ultra-conservative candidate against a moderate Republican in such a way as to split the vote and allow the Democrat to win.

Eight days later, on November 10, Odom posted on his blog that it was time for the Tea Party to "take over the GOP," by which he meant join it.

"Love or hate the Republican Party... it's our only vessel in the short term. We either unify through it and make a stand strong enough to stop this madness in government, or we fracture over third party efforts and meet uncertain political demise."

On January 5 Tea Party Express announced its support for Brown. This series of bus tours organized by Our Country Deserves Better PAC, has been called astroturf by other Tea Party groups including the American Liberty Alliance and members of Tea Party Patriots, a group generally considered to represent the movement's grass-roots.

The Republican Party itself, while providing a modicum of support, is keeping its distance from Brown's campaign. According to the Boston Herald, "operatives say the national GOP and the NRSC have donated voter lists, telephone systems and at least $50,000 to Brown's effort."

This is a paltry sum compared to the "hundreds of thousands" given by the GOP to Mitt Romney's 1994 campaign for the same seat. Larry Sabato, Director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics,suggests in the Herald article that the Republicans are focusing on November elections they think they can win, and will not "go on any kamikaze missions." Perhaps the Tea Party will.

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