Dems say Tea Party rally shows dissipating opposition to health reform

Democrats dismissed turnout at Tuesday's "Tea Party" rally on Capitol Hill against health reform legislation as evidence of withering momentum against the healthcare bill.

Pointing to preliminary turnout numbers at today's rally on Congress, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) argued that the momentum behind the Tea Party movement had waned as lawmakers approach a final, decisive vote on health reform.

The DNC said its own head count of today's rally estimated about 300 attendees, well below the 1-1.5 million a Tea Party organizing group, FreedomWorks, had estimated in attendance for its Sept. 12, 2009 rally on the Capitol. (Other media outlets had estimated between 60,000 to 75,000 in attendance for those rallies.)

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For its part, FreedomWorks pegged today's attendance as closer to 1,000, a number which they said could be even higher since the rally was organized at the last minute, and because many people in town skipped the rally to go directly to lobby lawmakers.

"The air is out of the tea party balloon," said DNC spokeswoman Brandi Hoffine. "Today’s dismal showing on Capitol Hill coupled with the turnout we’re seeing at health reform rallies across the country where supporters are outnumbering opponents by three to one and four to one clearly demonstrates that the momentum is squarely on the side of those who support reform."

"For those who are dismissing, I would say the only date that matters is Nov. 2nd," said Rob Jordan, the vice president for federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks. "You can count on people showing up for that day."

House Republicans had joined Tea Party protesters for an hourlong rally before attendees dispersed across the Hill to visit lawmakers' offices and demand that they vote against the bill. There have been no independent media reports on attendance.

Meanwhile, Democrats pointed to attendance figures for their own rallies at lawmakers' district offices in recent weeks as evidence of building momentum for passing health reform legislation.

"On the eve of the biggest vote Congress has taken since the one to authorize the War in Iraq, the fact that the tea party could only muster a few hundred protesters today on Capitol Hill when they boasted such large numbers last fall is clear evidence that the movement to kill health reform has dissolved into thin air like steam from a hot cup of tea," Hoffine said. 

Jordan said the Tea Party movement would continue to mobilize against the health bill.

"It's going to keep going throughout this debate however long it lasts," he said.

This post was updated at 1:37 p.m.