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Tri-state Tea Party group aims to broaden its appeal to conservatives

| Friday, July 25, 2014, 11:45 p.m.

A Tea Party organization targeting Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey is dropping the “Tea Party” from its name and broadening its policy agenda to attract more mainstream Republicans.

“We just think after five years the message has caught on, and as an organization we want to be a little bit more widespread,” said Don Adams, who co-founded the Independence Hall Tea Party in late February 2009, shortly after CNBC's Rick Santelli delivered the speech credited as the catalyst for the national Tea Party movement,

The group's split from the Tea Party brand occurs amid political observations that after reaching the peak of its influence in 2010, the national movement may have run its course.

“This is fairly normal in the history of political movements,” said Lara Brown, associate professor at George Washington University's Graduate School of Political Management. “Everybody is on the same page when they start, then when they actually have success, they start to fight over what that success should translate into, and then they usually begin to break up.”

Sam DeMarco of North Fayette, chairman of Western Pennsylvania Veterans and Patriots United, said his group always has viewed itself as part of the Tea Party movement — but intentionally never used “Tea Party” in its name.

“We didn't want to tie ourselves to one group, especially the larger national groups, because you tend to get co-opted,” DeMarco said.

As the movement evolved, DeMarco and the group's members recognized the importance of collaborating with sitting politicians — while still working to oust unfavorable incumbents — and making reasonable compromises.

“Some folks say that the Tea Party is dead. We don't see it that way. I don't need to stand out here with a sign because I'm working to get people elected in communities across the state,” he said. “You can't just rally and complain about things. You have to work with folks.”

The southeastern Pennsylvania-based Independence Hall's leaders, who claim thousands of members, did not characterize their decision as a “breakup” from other Tea Partiers, but rather a chance to influence a larger swath of conservatives in more policy areas. Among some goals: promoting educational savings accounts, advocating for Israelis and Ukrainians, and demonstrating how arts and culture can promote conservative values.

The Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, which raised about $40,000, no longer will exist.

“We saw this whole pitting of the Tea Party against the establishment as counterproductive,” Adams said. “We should all be united in trying to defeat policies of the Obama administration.”

Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder of the Georgia-based Tea Party Patriots, wrote on Friday in an email that “there is no centralized tea party organization dictating to local groups” and the Independence Hall leaders are “absolutely free to do what is in the best interests of their communities and members.”

“The core principles of freedom appear to remain at the center of their efforts,” Martin wrote, “and we applaud their work to promote them.”

Natasha Lindstrom is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8514 or nlindstrom@tribweb.com.

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