Over the last eight days I have traveled throughout Texas with the Tea Party Express (TPE) in order to help Ted Cruz beat David Dewhurst in the Texas GOP Senate primary. During the trip I got to meet Cruz, Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), Sarah Palin, Representative Michael Burgess (R-TX), and dozens of Texas Tea Partiers. While I have done campaign work before, it was in a limited capacity, so this was an entirely new experience.
My primary job with TPE was to assist with the mobile phone bank on the bus most of the 15 or so full-time TPE employees travel on during TPE tours. I literally sat next to TPE founder Sal Russo and TPE Chairwoman Amy Kremer, and got to see how the nation’s most influential Tea Party political action committee works.
The first thing we did was a RadioThon in Dallas with two area Tea Party leaders. Thousands of dollars were raised; Senators DeMint, Paul, and Lee (among others) spoke in support of Cruz; and certain social media circles were bombarded with Tweets, Facebook posts, etc.
I missed Thursday’s phone bank and other goings-on in order to fly to Boston and back to visit Jake, our family dog who passed away shortly after I began the return trip to Dallas. Friday we did phone-banking in Tyler, Texas and drove the several hours to The Woodlands, located right outside of Houston. Here Cruz teamed up with Palin and DeMint to speak to a couple of thousand supporters.
Saturday and Sunday consisted of phone-banking and rallying in Austin, San Antonio, San Angelo, and Waco. Monday we had a press conference in Dallas then drove to Houston, hitting a phone-banking location along the way. Tuesday we did sign-waving and participated in the Cruz victory party in Houston.
Traveling through Texas was very fascinating for me for many reasons, but especially the following:
1. As one of the TPE guys stated, many big-name conservative draw crowds of 3,000… and Sarah Palin draws crowds of 30,000. While there were probably only two thousand people at the Friday event, she was definitely the speaker the crowd was most excited about. I’ve always been a more cerebral, policy-centric guy when it comes to politics, even as a teenager – George Will, whom I’ve seen speak twice in person, is my favorite conservative speaker, such as when he spoke at the 2010 CPAC dinner – so Palin’s style doesn’t click with me personally, but watching the crowd react to her was very interesting and educational as to how truly sick and tired grassroots conservatives are of Washington.
2. The Tea Party Express is run by people who are avid supporters and friends of Palin. However, they are also fully supporting Mitt Romney’s candidacy. In voicing my opinion to TPE staff as someone who isn’t enthused by Palin, yet who is unlikely to vote in the fall for Romney because of how liberal he is, this led to a series of discussions about the election not being about Obama vs. Romney. Instead, to quote TPE Chairwoman Amy Kremer, it is about “freedom and liberty vs. Obama.” These conversations on the delicate yet important balance regarding political principles and political strategy were very elucidating.
3. Ron and Kay Rivoli are married professional singers who created a song in support of Ted Cruz. The song, which can be seen in full in the video at the bottom of this post, was only one of a number of great songs they sang throughout Texas, and only one of the many they sing across North America. They are awesome people who sacrifice a great deal financially and otherwise to travel with TPE, so please hit up their YouTube page, Facebook account, and Twitter pages as soon and often as possible.
4. I ended up chatting with one of the Dallas-area Tea Party organizers, and he explained a great deal about the inner workings of politics in Texas. I was a little cynical about how historic Cruz’s victory was/is, since he’s merely replacing a moderate Republican with a conservative one. This is important, of course, but not as critical as replacing a liberal with a conservative. It’s also not at all critical to flipping the Senate. However, as stated to those of us on the Tea Party Express bus by Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX), a supporter of Cruz, before the election, a victory by Cruz would be the first time a Senate candidate has won without first being anointed by Austin. Additionally, the activist pointed out how corrupt and non-conservative the political establishment in Texas is, and thus the Cruz victory (as well as other state-level victories) is a step in the right direction for activists who want a cleaner in-state government.
5. Campaigning is exhausting. I don’t know House Members do it so often, or how Presidential staffers manage. And I was the low guy on the totem pole, meaning I didn’t have to work as hard as everyone else.
I spent my college years involved on a state and local level in politics, but forgot what it was like to attend rallies, participate in other activist events, etc. Such is the result of living and working inside the Beltway for nearly four years. It was great to get out and be reminded about life outside of the elitist, over-educated and under-intelligent Beltway.