The head of one of the most powerful U.S. Tea Party movements said on Sunday that candidates under the burgeoning party’s umbrella are going to make “tremendous gains” this November because they have “turned the political system on its head.”
Longtime political consultant Sal Russo, a leading strategist within the Tea Party movement and the head of the Tea Party Express, told Bob Schieffer on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that his organizing group is so strong -- raising more than $5 million so far for candidates in this election cycle – because it is “the purest form of democracy.”
Up until recently the Tea Party movement has largely been scattered with little organized message and no major spokesperson to put forward its message or defend its positions in the face of critics.
But Russo and a growing contingent of others have begun to shift that by taking the helm of the movement’s messaging operation. Russo said on Sunday that he is unhappy with the perceptions of the movement that have been painted mainly by liberals. But, he added, the movement’s principles will overcome these misconceptions.
“One of the things that we’ve had to face since the beginning is that people have tried to demonize the Tea Party movement with a lot of false accusations,” he said.
“First it was that we’re all astro turf…then we’re a bunch of crackpots and nuts, then we’re a bunch of racists. And this movement keeps growing because it grows on the fundamental principle…and that is a belief that the federal government has become too big [and] too intrusive.”
Some public figures have criticized the Tea Party movement as trumpeting its grass-roots fundraising efforts in public, but secretly being backed by major private interests with political agendas of their own. But Russo said that’s not the case. The Tea Party Express group has not received any contribution over $5,000, he said.
“We’re the purest form of democracy in the Tea Party movement in the sense that when we want to do something, we don’t have any money to start with, we have to send an e-mail out to our people and say, ‘Hey, we think Sharron Angle’s going to be a great candidate in Nevada, do you want to get behind her?’” said Russo.
In addition to Angle, who is running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), the Tea Party Express has backed Christine O’Donnell in Delaware, who defeated Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.) for the GOP ticket’s nomination, and Joe Miller, who recently beat out Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for the Republican nomination in Alaska. Murkowski has launched a write-in campaign in response.
“We’ve turned the political system on its head,” said Russo. “And what’s done that is millions of Americans…have gotten involved in the campaigns. So we’re now winning Senate seats and House seats that people didn’t even think were possible 18 months ago.”