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On again, off again alliance for 'Tea Party' and SC GOP

Harry Kibler, a spokesman for the Upcountry Conservative Coalition (Tea Party) Movement in South Carolina. hspace=4

Almost one year ago, the Tea Party Movement burst onto the scene with a series of rallies across the country. Thousands of people turned out to chant for smaller government, lower taxes and a return to more conservative values. In the last few weeks, Tea Partiers in South Carolina have stormed the spotlight as the first in the nation to forge a formal alliance with the Republican Party. It's been a rocky road. February 11th was not a good day for Harry Kibler. "My phone started ringing off the hook," says Kibler. "For well over 15 hours, you know, 'You're a Benedict Arnold, you're a traitor, you've just sold out our movement.'" Kibler's a spokesman for a coalition of organizations with names like "Patriotic Resistance" and "Americans Have Had Enough." They're all part of the Tea Party Movement, which has no formal organization or leadership. But they do have strong views, as you can tell by the angry messages Kibler was getting. It all started in January when Kibler and another Tea Party leader got an invitation to come to Greenville County Republican Party headquarters. "Early into the meeting we were told the South Carolina GOP wanted to start a Tea Party Republican Organization," says Kibler. The Tea Party Republicans would be akin to the College Republicans or Women Republicans, says Kibler. And from the South Carolina Republican Party's perspective, it was a great idea since a recent CNN poll found a third of voters sympathize with the conservative Tea Party. A sort of Tea Party "seal of approval" on a Republican candidate could go a long way in a tight race. "It was not well received," says Kibler of the Tea Party reaction to the GOP proposal. "You know I would imagine it would be the same thing as if I was the owner of the Michelin trademark, but you wanted to take my trademark and put it on an inferior product. And I mean that literally. I think the Republican Party is inferior. They have lost their way." The Greenville County Republican Party went ahead with a press conference on February 8 anyway and they announced what they did have with the Tea Party Movement, which was basically just an agreement to try and be friends. Not exactly a big headline, but the Republicans were making such a big deal of it that it confused reporters. A couple of political sites immediately wrote the groups had "merged." The cable news networks picked that up, and things got messy. "The South Carolina Republican party is uniting with Tea Party groups!" exclaimed an MSNBC anchor. South Carolina Party Chairwoman Karen Floyd tried to clear up the confusion. "We've not merged, we've not blended organizations," she told MSNBC. "We've just come together on ideas and common issues and ground." But as Floyd spoke, a headline scrolled underneath shouting that "South Carolina Republicans and the Tea Party were uniting!" Same thing happened on Fox News. And that's when people started calling Harry Kibler a traitor. So, he called a second press conference to insist the South Carolina Tea Party movement is not merging with the Republicans. It's more like an infiltration. Their war room is a Denny's in Greenville where they eat chicken-fried steak and talk about how to root out the RINOS in office - that's "Republicans In Name Only." "It's now or never," says Don Rogers as he passes out a 12-page guide for their so-called Rinohunt. March 30 is the critical date: the deadline to file for office in South Carolina this year. "Do you know of a RINO in your district?" asks Rogers. "Who knows of one that needs to go? Raise your hand if you know of one - anybody." Several hands go up and Rogers adds, "Get on the phone and let's start finding somebody to get into these offices. It's now or never." The goal, says Harry Kibler, is to challenge as many incumbents as possible and to do it as Republicans, rather than trying to establish a Tea Party ticket. Kibler says there shouldn't be a need for a Tea Party ticket. "If we have enough votes to start a new party, then we have enough votes to take back the party that has a platform that already has our values in it." For that they'll need to do more than run for office. They'll also have to get involved in Republican Party leadership - from the precinct on up. Kibler's doing his part for the infiltration. He's thinking about running for Greenville County Council. It would be the first office he's ever run for, and he would do it as a Republican, but not a RINO.