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Saturday, March 27, 2010

Palin To Hold Tea Party Rally On Harry Reid's Turf

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Tea Party Thousands Rally In Reid’s Tiny Town

Sarah Palin and thousands of tea party activists were gathering at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's small hometown in the Nevada desert Saturday to call for the ouster of Democrats who supported the health care overhaul.

Organizers predicted as many as 10,000 people would attend the so-called "Showdown in Searchlight," the hardscrabble former mining town where the Senate Democratic leader grew up and owns a home. Searchlight's population is 798, according to the Web site.

Since the health care vote, "Everyone is waiting to see if the tea party movement is reinvigorated or if we've resigned ourselves to defeat," Joe Wierzbicki, a spokesman for event sponsor Tea Party Express, said in an e-mail.

The rally that's been called a conservative Woodstock takes place just days after the historic health care vote that ushered in near-universal medical coverage and divided Congress and the nation.

The vote was followed by reports of threats and vandalism aimed at some Washington lawmakers, mostly Democrats who supported the new law. Bricks have been hurled through Democrats' windows and at least 10 members of Congress who voted for the bill have received threats.

In the run-up to the health care vote, racial epithets aimed at black members of Congress were heard at protests attended by at least some tea party members.

Police don't expect problems but the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is sending dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers to patrol the crowd.

"Don't Retreat... Reload"

Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee, was scheduled to appear at the gathering after spending Friday and Saturday morning campaigning for Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who led the 2008 ticket.

At a campaign event Saturday morning in Mesa, Palin urged McCain supporters to help put government "back on the side of the people" and praised McCain as a hero "who can lead us to a brighter future."

Her speech was disrupted twice by hecklers who were forcibly removed from the room.

"Young man, stick around and listen to what we’re going to say. Maybe you’ll learn something," she told the first heckler.

Now a Fox News analyst and potential 2012 presidential candidate, Palin faced criticism after posting a map on her Facebook page that had circles and cross hairs over 20 Democratic districts. She also sent a tweet saying, "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!"

She said Friday she was alluding to votes, not guns.

"The tea party has one big challenge between now and November and that is policing itself," said Bill Whalen, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush's 1992 campaign. "There is a lot of bitterness in politics today, and unfortunately it's much too close to the surface. You can plan a rally for 5,000 people, and if one person does something horrible, the rally was not successful."

Some rallies have featured protesters carrying holstered handguns, legal in some states. No violence has been reported.

"I'm confident we are going to have an orderly group," said Debbie Landis, whose tea party group is holding a candidate forum before the rally. "This is going to be attended by people interested in the future of their state and country, not rabble-rousers."

Organizers are aware of the visibility of the event.

"The whole world is watching," Tea Party Express spokesman Joe Wierzbicki said in an e-mail. "If you can get in your car and drive up, or hop on a plane, or take your motorhome or motorcycle, please, please, please join this historic effort."

Eric Odom, an organizer for the Patriot Caucus and other tea party groups, said in an e-mail Thursday that he had received "hundreds of hateful messages and phone calls" he attributed to "leftists" and supporters of the overhaul.

"Welcome to the real America," Norman Halfpenny, retired Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant told The Las Vegas Review-Journal, as he and other volunteer valets greeted hundreds of overnight campers. "We're Republican by registration, but I'd even vote for a communist right now if they would start to change the way we're running the country. We need to get our Constitution back."

Halfpenny's friend, Jeff Gerod, 62, and Gerod's wife, Cindy, from Lake Havasu, told the newspaper: "We need to go back to the government of the people, by the people and for the people — I think that's how it goes."

A string of polls has shown Reid is vulnerable in politically moderate Nevada after pushing President Barack Obama's agenda in Congress.

His standing has also been hurt by Nevada's double-digit unemployment and record foreclosure and bankruptcy rates.

Democrats and Reid's campaign plan to set up a hospitality tent in the parking lot of a Searchlight casino that will serve tea and doughnut holes. In a counterpoint to the conservative protest, the Senate leader will spend part of the day at a new shooting range in Las Vegas with National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.

"Searchlight doesn't get many tourists, so I'm glad they are choosing to bring all their out-of-state money to my hometown," Reid said in a statement.

The tea party movement is a far-flung coalition of conservative groups angered by Washington spending, rising taxes and the growth and reach of government.

It takes its name from the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when colonists dumped tea off English ships to protest what they considered unfair taxation by the British crown.

The rally kicks off a 42-city bus tour that ends in Washington on April 15, tax day.

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Sources: MSNBC, Google Maps

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