What has 9,000 members, is top secret and has the potential to help decide the outcome of Nevada's 2010 elections from the top U.S. Senate race to city and county level contests?
The e-mail list of "Action is Brewing," the Tea Party-aligned group that used to be named "Anger is Brewing" until its organizer Debbie Landis decided to turn mad-as-hell voter angst into ballot box power.
"That list is gold," Landis told the Review-Journal, which is why she asked her lawyer to draft a cease and desist order in case she needs to file it against an Internet-savvy political consulting group based in Reno that she suspected of obtaining her e-mail list to share with its clients.
"I hope the e-mail list doesn't get used but if it does I have the cease and desist order ready to go," she said. "I promised not to give out those e-mails and if I don't have my credibility I don't have anything."
Bryan Bedera, the head of GrassRoots 2.0, the Reno firm that's the target of Landis' ire, said his company doesn't have the e-mail list and wouldn't use it if it did because that would violate the ethics as laid out in nondisclosure and confidentiality agreements in his company's contracts.
Still, he acknowledged to Landis in an e-mail obtained by the Review-Journal that one of his subcontractors had received a copy of her group's e-mail list "through his previous employment" but he "has deleted or returned those files in compliance with the contract he had with his former employer. He has since signed a nondisclosure agreement with GrassRoots 2.0, and should he come in contact with your list in the future, the policy above would apply."
"I wanted to reassure you that GrassRoots 2.0, its employees and subcontractors do not currently have a copy of the email list nor have we offered or marketed it," Bedera wrote to Landis.
In an interview, Bedera chalked the whole thing up to a "huge misunderstanding."
"We never had a copy of it and we never offered it to any candidates," Bedera said.
Bedera refused to reveal his client list, but his company has helped dozens of candidates deal with the social networking age by setting up and monitoring websites and Facebook and Twitter accounts. One of his top clients is Sue Lowden's Republican campaign for the U.S. Senate, although her office said it has never used Grassroots 2.0 for its e-mail list contacts.
Why are e-mail lists so important these days? Ask President Barack Obama, who won the White House partly because of his sophisticated use of the Internet as a tool to recruit new voters.
"The most effective way for campaigns and organizations to stay in contact with their supporters is through e-mail," says GrassRoots 2.0 on its website. "GrassRoots 2.0 can help you develop an e-mail campaign that not only optimizes readership but draws in new supporters."
Why is "Action is Brewing" so important this year in Nevada?
Landis, a longtime Republican Party operative, is heavily involved in organizing the many local Tea Party movement factions, especially in Northern Nevada. And she helped arrange the "Showdown in Searchlight" in U.S. Sen. Harry Reid's hometown last month to rally thousands of people against his re-election.
Top Republican candidates showed up at the rally to woo the Tea Party types, who like most GOP conservatives are against higher taxes, government bailouts of industry and big federal spending.
Landis also organized the Friday night debate between six GOP contenders for the U.S. Senate, and the Republicans vying in the gubernatorial race, including incumbent Gov. Jim Gibbons.
In this election year when conservatives count, "Action is Brewing" matters.
Which is why that e-mail list is potential gold.
by the numbers
Breaking down the Tea Party movement by numbers is nearly impossible.
Whether it's crowd estimates or political polling, that's the way its members seem to want it, frustrating both progressives and the media.
Rasmussen polling shows 24 percent of U.S. voters now consider themselves part of the movement, which is an eight-point increase from one month ago.
A recent New York Times/CBS News poll says 18 percent of Americans who identify themselves as Tea Party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated. They're mostly 45 or older white male Republicans who are married, according to the poll.
Christina Botteri, communications director for a relatively new coalition of groups called the National Tea Party Federation, said she's skeptical of all polling results.
"The people who make up this movement feel as though they've been marginalized, ignored and made fun of," Botteri said. "Why would they cooperate and make themselves known to the people who have made fun of them for so long?"
Attempts to count the number of tea partyers nationwide led Patchwork Nation, a nonprofit organization funded by the Knight Foundation and started by the Christian Science Monitor, to estimate that 67,000 people total are legitimately part of the movement nationwide, plus or minus 10,000 to 12,000 people.
That number does not include people who sympathize with the Tea Party or its goals, which could drastically change the outcome.
The results are based on "online directories" and other publicly available information, but the Patchwork Nation report does not go into detail about the resources used.
The Review-Journal reported in March that 8,000 people came out to the "Showdown in Searchlight" event that included 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin and was hosted by the Tea Party Express.
Levi Russell, the group's communications director, said the paper's estimate was not far off the "up to 10,000" figure tossed around.
"If we can agree that 10,000 is accurate, and for this group to say there's only 70,000 of us nationwide, I'd be pretty impressed that percentage descended on Nowheresville, Nevada," he said. "We've gotten better at counting to come up with an accurate number. We don't want to inflate it."
That 10,000 number was based on a raffle in which ticket stubs were physically collected by group members, though Russell concedes, "we didn't get everyone in the crowd, but we got a majority."
He added that 350,000 people are on the Tea Party Express mailing list for events and group updates.
'your job is to win'
While Republicans in Utah, Arizona and Florida seek to purge their party of alleged pseudo-conservatives, don't expect something similar from the Republican Party of Nevada.
At least not if Mark Amodei is calling the shots.
Amodei, a former state senator from Carson City, is seeking to become chairman of the state party and says Republicans need more people in the fold, not fewer.
He says with Republicans representing just 38 percent of registered voters statewide compared to about 44 percent for Democrats, the GOP can use all the votes it can get in 2010, especially if the goal is to win the race for the seat held by Sen. Harry Reid, the majority leader of the U.S. Senate.
"Your job is to win," he says of the role of party chairman.
Reid is expected to spend as much as $25 million to hang onto his seat and Amodei says if the party can't get independents and some Democrats to vote for a Republican alternative, Reid will win.
"It is not a secret to anybody that Harry Reid is going to use part of that war chest to identify and turn out every single Democrat in the state. If I was in his position I would do the same thing," Amodei said. "You have got to bring independents, you have to unify Republicans, and I think there are some Democrats in Nevada who will vote for someone they know about and can connect with."
Although Reid's statewide unfavorable rating is consistently higher than his favorable rating, Amodei says the longtime incumbent doesn't have to improve his numbers much given the registration advantage and money he'll have to spend getting Democrats to show up at voting time.
Amodei thinks the winning candidate for U.S. Senate may capture only 45 percent or 46 percent of the vote, which may explain in part Reid's confidence in saying earlier this month that he would win the election even if it were held tomorrow, despite the low favorable rating.
"That is not a bold statement for a guy who starts out with 43 percent registration," Amodei said.
Whether state Republicans agree with Amodei's approach will be determined May 15. That's when the party will hold a meeting in Reno to vote for a new chairman or chairwoman to fill the role vacated by former chairman Chris Comfort.
Amodei says he wants the job but won't sugarcoat the Republican registration disadvantage to get it.
And the unvarnished truth, he says, is Republicans won't win office if they only win votes from registered Republicans.
"In Nevada, that means on your best day you get 38 percent of the vote for the statewide races," he said.
As for his personal political future, Amodei says if he is elected chairman he won't leave the job to run for office, even if Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev., decides to challenge embattled U.S. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., in 2012, which could leave Heller's seat representing Northern Nevada open for a new candidate.
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