Candidates lend voices to Augusta tea party event

A year after they first gathered downtown, several thousand tea partiers -- even angrier since the passage of health care reform -- are expected on Augusta Common tonight.

Fired up as they might be, their fervor is expected to take the form of a big pep rally.

"These are Republicans," Col. Gary Powell of the Richmond County Sheriff's Office said. "We're not going to have any trouble with these people."

Deputies will number only six at the event, where more than 30 speakers and two musical acts will rally the crowd from 5 to 9 p.m.

Organizers, however, argue that Augusta's second annual "Tax Day Tea Party" is not a Republican event.

"Basically, we're independents trying to force the Republicans' hand," said Tony Powers, a radio announcer who has promoted the event for weeks on his daily broadcast.

"They should answer to us," Powers said.

The Tea Party movement, which is holding rallies across the U.S. today, does pose a risk for some incumbent Republicans, pulling them toward the right "and making them less appealing to swing voters," said University of Georgia Political Science Professor Charles Bullock.

"Republican candidates probably hope that they can co-opt the enthusiasm of the tea party folks," said Bullock, an expert on Georgia politics.

A dozen candidates, most of them Republican, will ply Georgia and South Carolina voters at the rally.

Two Republican candidates squaring off to face 12th District Congressman John Barrow, recently one of a handful of Democrats to oppose health care reform, will rally the Augusta crowd.

"I'm one of the original organizers of the Savannah Tea Party," proclaimed 12th District Republican hopeful Jeanne Seaver, a Savannah, Ga., businesswoman.

A working "soccer mom" from the "school of hard knocks," Seaver said she'd be proud to be Georgia's first elected Republican congresswoman from a district she says is 52 percent female.

Also seeking the Republican nomination, Thunderbolt, Ga., firefighter Carl Smith said the tea party protests are important because for many participants, they are a first involvement in the political process.

"No matter who or where you are, you have to be somewhat engaged," Smith said.

Tonight's event is expected to be wholly "family friendly," Powers said, and neither alcohol nor weapons will be permitted.

Lining the commons with about 33 speakers present will be booths rented by candidates and other conservative-leaning organizations such as Fair Tax.

"It's taxation without representation," fair tax advocate Jim Bible said of the tea party's issues with the Obama administration, which "continues to give the wrong people a free ride on taxes, while making the rest of us pay the way," he said.

Others, even politicians who consider themselves conservative, opted not to join the tea partiers.

Augusta Commissioner Joe Jackson will not attend, despite being "a conservative Republican.

"National health care, I think it's a crock. I've paid my health insurance out of my pocket for the past 18 years."

The event, coinciding with many others across the nation, did not start off as a platform for candidates, but became so "late in the game," according to organizer Megan Seda, the founder of Columbia County Young Republicans.

"We didn't invite anybody who wasn't a conservative," Seda said.

Co-emcee Powers will introduce speakers Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for the governor of South Carolina; Georgia Republican candidates for governor Ray McBerry and John Oxendine; South Carolina Republican congressional candidate Jeff Duncan; author Chad Connelly; candidate for Georgia Republican party chair Sue Everhart; and keynote speaker Bob McEwen, a six-term U.S. representative from Ohio.

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, a Republican from Athens, might or might not make the event, depending on a House vote, his press secretary said, while Nathan Deal, another Republican candidate for Georgia governor from Gainesville, will send a spokesperson.

With a message spread by conservative media and Internet social networking, tea partiers will show, Powers said.

"They're mad as hell, and they're not going to take it any more," he said.

Around Augusta, others took issue with the tea partiers, although none said a counter-protest was planned.

John Fillop, a participant in recent "Coffee Parties" at a Martinez coffee shop, said his group won't be present tonight.

"We're not going to tangle with them," Fillop said. "I'd love to tangle with one of them one on one, but we'll leave them alone Thursday to litter up downtown and have fun among themselves."

If you go

WHAT: Tax Day Tea Party

WHEN: 5 to 9 p.m. today

WHERE: Augusta Common, between Eighth and Ninth streets

WHO: Speakers include political candidates and office holders John Oxendine, Jeff Duncan, Melvin Everson, Nikki Haley, Paul Broun, Jeanne Seaver, Ray McBerry, Taylor Bryant, Gerry Purcell and others

ENTERTAINMENT: Ed Turner and Friends, Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold

COST: Free; refreshments and souvenirs will be available; bring something to sit on

CONTACT: RSVP on Facebook or visit www.augustateaparty.org

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