By DONNA CASSATA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — The foot soldiers of the tea party movement dismiss the chatter about its demise and stand ready to use their unbending political force against both President Barack Obama and the Republican establishment this election year.
The Tea Party Patriots, one of the major grass-roots groups, marked the fifth anniversary of the movement Thursday, attracting hundreds of members and plenty of speakers to a Washington celebration in which they directed their animosity at the Washington establishment.
Keli Carender, national grass-roots coordinator, said the strength of the group was reflected in the $1.2 million and counting that it raised in 10 days.
To the "establishment and permanent political class," Carender said, "we don't need their millions, we've got our own."
Republican primaries this election year will be a crucial test for the movement as the GOP establishment has aggressively challenged tea party-backed candidates in Kentucky, Kansas, Idaho, Mississippi, Michigan and elsewhere. Republicans blame the tea party for losses in winnable races in 2010 and 2012 that many believe cost the GOP a Senate majority.
The tactics were on display this week in Colorado. Tea party-affiliated Ken Buck, who lost a close Senate race in 2010, stepped aside to run for the House while more mainstream Rep. Cory Gardner launched a Senate bid in a political deal.
Tea partyers, who helped Republicans capture control of the House in 2010, made clear they don't like what the GOP establishment has done to their conservative agenda of limited government, free-market policies and what they consider fidelity to the Constitution. They signaled they will work hard to elect their uncompromising candidates no matter what the establishment does.
In Kansas, the Tea Party Express endorsed Milton Wolf, who is opposing three-term Sen. Pat Roberts in the Republican primary.
Addressing the event, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., was interrupted by the crowd, which stood and cheered when he said, "It's high time we retire (House Speaker) John Boehner." When the applause died down, Huelskamp completed his sentence that it was "high time to retire John Boehner's biggest excuse that we only control one-third of the government."
Viveca Stoneberry of Spotsylvania, Va., said she was disillusioned with the Republican leadership because Boehner and others "pretend to be on the side of conservatives." Irene Conklin of Gainesville, Va., said Boehner needs to "take a solid stand."
The frustration isn't limited to House leaders.
Steve Gibson of Columbus, Ohio, said he had offered to help Matt Bevin, the Republican businessman challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell, according to Gibson, is conservative 70 percent of the time, but then "throwing in the towel every time." Gibson was particularly upset with McConnell's recent votes on allowing the nation to borrow more money.
Boehner, for his part, said Thursday that he has "great respect for the tea party and the energy they brought to the electoral process. My gripe is with some Washington organizations who feel like they've got to go raise money by beating on me and others."
If Boehner and McConnell were drawing the movement's ire, Sen. Ted Cruz was collecting praise.
The Texas freshman and potential 2016 presidential candidate got a standing ovation and wild applause when he addressed the event, cheered for his fight last fall against Obama's health care law that precipitated the 16-day partial government shutdown. He offered no regrets and argued that the effort has proved successful in the long run, contributing to Obama's low approval ratings and the law's unpopularity.
Cruz drew a rousing response when he told the crowd he was "absolutely convinced we are going to repeal every single word" of the health care law.