Tea party evolving, members say, but participation remains strong

Posted August 27, 2012 9:54 p.m. EDT
Updated August 28, 2012 1:39 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina's tea party members at the Republican National Convention say they might not be the protesting, chanting, raucous crowd they were in 2010, but their agenda and activism remain unchanged.

Nancy Clark said the tea party was never meant to be a third political party, but merely a cultural and political movement.

"I believe a two-party system is best," she said. "We're not really a party ourselves. We're just regular people who are concerned about the direction the country is going."

Clark said she believes the unofficial party is perhaps more muted than it was in the past because it finds increasing common ground with the Republican Party.

That could be, in part, due to a surge of tea party-backed candidates, including 2nd District Congresswoman Renee Ellmers, who have won state and national elections since 2008.

Ellmers said the tea party's concerns about big government and the ever-increasing national debt perfectly mirror her own values, which is why she remains committed to furthering the movement in Washington, D.C.

"Those are the things we've passed in legislation. Those are the goals we're trying to achieve – smaller government, lower taxes, less reform for our businesses," she said.

Delegate Martha Jenkins, president of the National Federation of Republican Women's state chapter, said the tea party continues to grow but has evolved into an organized, behind-the-scenes network of volunteers and activists.

"It has gone from being an idea to being a plan," Jenkins said.

Delegate Donna Williams said she's very committed to the tea party cause.

"I shut my business down, and I probably give anywhere from 40 to 60 hours a week volunteering now," she said. "It has become my life."