Tea Party keeps its eye on healthcare prize

By Tom Sullivan
03:40 PM
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Whether the Tea Party will influence the presidential campaign remains to be seen – but the movement’s participants this week are creating an undeniable impact in South Carolina leading up to Saturday’s primaries.

Indeed, there are few places where the Tea Party is as popular as it is in The Palmetto State. Among the estimated 50 individual Tea Party chapters in South Carolina, where a Winthrop University poll found some 61 percent of state residents approve of the movement, Sen. Jim DeMint is perhaps the highest-profile politician. DeMint, who backed Mitt Romney in 2008, is withholding support this time around for Romney or anyone else. Rather, he is turning efforts toward the Senate, saying in Myrtle Beach on Sunday that the Tea Party “need not only take a majority in the Senate. We need a conservative majority in the Senate."

Toward that end, Spartanburg County, S.C. Tea Party chapter leader Karen Martin said that should conservative-minded Republicans actually win the White House, retain control over the House, and take the Senate, “it would be a sin if the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “wasn’t pushed through on day one and repealed and be done with it.”

“Hopefully between now and then the Supreme Court will speak and maybe we don’t have to go there,” Martin told Government Health IT during this interview. “But if we win the House and the Senate and the White House, and Obamacare wasn’t repealed just on the grounds of unconstitutionality alone – then I wouldn’t know what to say.”

Although loosely-affiliated, the various Tea Party chapters have already flexed their muscles in South Carolina, essentially blocking proposed legislation to stand up a health information exchange (HIX) by persuading all 13 of the Republicans who initially backed the bill to take their name off of it.

Nationwide, though, the Tea Party may be cooling since its golden days of the 2010 mid-term elections, when it was widely-credited with helping Republicans wrangle control of the House. A November poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press, in fact, found that 27 percent of Americans disagree with the Tea Party, while 20 percent agree with the movement – nearly the opposite of one year ago when 27 percent agreed and 22 percent disagreed.

Sources: Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, and Winthrop University

The Republican Party did not fare any better in Pew’s survey. Only 36 percent of respondents told Pew researchers they have a favorable opinion of the GOP and that’s down from 42 percent as recently as March 2011; the Democrats shifted from 50 percent to 48 percent favorability rate in the same time frame.

The Tea Party stronghold appears to bode worst for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – particularly among evangelical voters (not to be lumped together with all Tea Party members) as a January 17, 2012 Monmouth University poll found that two-thirds of South Carolinians in that category do not want this week’s front-runner to be the eventual GOP presidential candidate – but that could change next week when all eyes turn toward Florida.

For more of our primaries coverage, visit the Elections 2012 page.