Tea Party dogma difficult to define

Forcing Tea Party ideology into a category creates the same problem U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart faced in 1964 when he tried to define pornography.

"I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it," Stewart famously wrote.

The motley mix of Republicans, libertarians, gadflies and disgruntled grandparents gathered Saturday in Searchlight for the Tea Party Express rally could fit a loose definition of conservative. Beyond that, applying just a single adjective is a stretch.

Even former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Saturday's main stage draw and the woman many view as the personification of Tea Party ideology, generates mixed feelings within the movement.

Some see the 2008 Republican vice presidential candidate as a unifying force and a woman who articulates the feelings of people angry and afraid of government under President Barack Obama.

"I think she represents people who don't usually go out and scream and holler and carry on about politics every day," said JoAnn Gay of Meridian, Miss., who stopped in Laughlin to take a picture of a Tea Party Express bus.

Others see Palin as a tool for Republican politicians to win the support of the libertarian-leaning Tea Party movement.

Palin's Friday speech in Arizona endorsing her former presidential running mate, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., against self-proclaimed "consistent conservative" J.D. Hayworth tapped into Tea Party movement concerns. McCain's stances on immigration and other issues have prompted some to question his conservative credentials.

"It is disappointing but not surprising," said Liz Kerby, former chairwoman of the Nye County Libertarian Party, of Palin's support for McCain.

"She's not rogue, she sounds like part of that establishment," said Kerby, referring to Palin's book, "Going Rogue."

During the speech at McCain's side in Arizona, Palin seemed to acknowledge the rift between establishment Republicans and the Tea Party conservatives.

"We need this new blood coming into the system," Palin said.

However, she quickly added that shouldn't come at the expense of establishment Republicans such as McCain.

"But we also need statesmen and heroes like John McCain in there to help us get through these challenging times," Palin said.

Some in the Tea Party worry that a rift could undermine Republicans and help Democrats maintain their majority this fall.

"You could split the party, we saw that with Perot," said Norm Faulkner, 71, of Surprise, Ariz., referring to Reform Party candidate H. Ross Perot, who divided conservatives in 1992's presidential election. Faulkner and his wife, Velinda, attended the Searchlight event.

Others in the Tea Party say division among the ranks is natural within a popular movement because the issues are broad and tough to define. Anyone who says they fear big government and respect the U.S. Constitution can fit in.

There are a number of political action committees, special interest groups and lobbyists who promote a national Tea Party agenda, but many more groups and individuals at state and local levels contribute to the energy of the movement. The Tea Party Express is funded by the Our Country Deserves Better PAC.

"The best part of it is none of them (Tea Party movement leaders) have any central control," said Tea Party Express follower Bob Root of Shady Grove, Fla., who was in Searchlight on Saturday.

"People try to make it sound like Sarah Palin is among them," Root continued. "She happens to speak at the Tea Parties, but she doesn't represent the Tea Party."

Keystone cash to be returned

A decision by Assemblyman Chad Christensen, R-Las Vegas, to drop his campaign for state Senate prompted his biggest donor to seek a refund.

The Keystone Corporation, a conservative special interest group, asked Christensen to give back at least some of the $10,000 he accepted for his campaign.

"That money, we're told, is coming back to us," said Monte Miller, a Keystone board member.

Shortly before the March 12 filing deadline for candidates, Christensen announced he would drop his state Senate bid and enter the crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, the winner of which will challenge Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Ron Futrell, a consultant to Christensen, said Christensen spent some of the Keystone contribution on his state campaign but would return the $5,000 that was set aside for the general election.

"Absolutely, yes, the money that was for the general will be returned," he said.

titus tops self-promotion list

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., is the biggest user of House-funded mass mailings and teleconferences, according to a review by The Associated Press that concluded freshman lawmakers in tight re-election races were most likely to be using taxpayer money to promote themselves to constituents.

Titus spent $470,059.25 on communications last year, the review found. The next biggest spender was Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kan., with $422,055.17. Third was Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., with $413.996.12.

In all, the 54 House members who were elected in 2008 spent more than $11 million.

Titus' spokesman, Andrew Stoddard, told The Associated Press that because her suburban Las Vegas district is the most populous in the country, with nearly a million people, "it's no surprise that we would need to spend more than other offices to communicate with our constituents."

But, AP calculated, Titus' spending is more than the combined spending of House members representing 5.7 million people in Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming.

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861. Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.