Tea Party springing up through civic and religious organizations

Organizers of the Tea Party in Beaufort County say they are relying on residents -- not politicians -- to recruit members and help educate the public about their constitutional rights.

After a lull in activity last fall, new Tea Parties groups are springing up in the county, and old ones are holding classes about the U.S. Constitution. They are initiating mail and telephone campaigns and trying to reach residents through civic and religious organizations.

In the past two weeks, Bluffton formed a new Tea Party Patriots group, a move organizers say came after they were inspired by the Tea Party Express Nationwide Tour in November.

"It seems now that the mere mention of a Tea Party brings people out in droves," said Bluffton organizer Jane Kenny, 71. "I personally don't think the politicians at any level have any clue what is going on here with the movement. They don't even know who they represent any more."

Both nationally and locally, the Tea Party movement has asserted its independence from political parties -- and even, in some respects, from the political process.

"We stay away from both political parties and don't want to be a third party," said Jim Pennell, an organizer of the Beaufort group. "But what we do want to do is keep citizens involved in their government. In the beginning, I felt like I was alone, but through e-mails and word of mouth, I've reached out to so many people who feel just like me."

Rachel Buie, chairwoman of the Beaufort County Republican Party, said local party officials haven't discussed the Tea Party movement much.

"I haven't really kept up with it," she said. "But it's supposed to be a nonpartisan thing."

Carol Fowler, chairman of the S.C. Democratic Party, said she believes Tea Partiers will "undoubtedly" support conservative Republican candidates in the primaries.

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