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Tea Party Minority Outreach Project Starts in Texas

Ambreen Ali/Roll Call
A Houston tea party group has converted a warehouse into a meeting space, and its leaders are hoping to recruit minorities from surrounding neighborhoods.

The immediate goal is to defeat Obama’s re-election bid, but the tea-party organizers said they are reaching out to private funders and nonprofits to build lasting infrastructure. MonCrief is a national spokeswoman for the conservative group American Majority, which has supported the project.

They plan to take the project to Maryland next, where MonCrief lives, and to other diverse parts of the country. But starting first in Harris County, the Lone Star state’s most populous, was deliberate. The county has seen an influx of minorities in the past decade, and its population is 38 percent Hispanic and 18 percent black.

“Harris County is obviously the biggest prize. The greater Houston area is the largest pool of voters in Texas,” said Harvey Kronberg, editor of a Texas political publication called the Quorum Report. “It is trending Democratic.”

Nearby suburban counties long considered conservative strongholds are also moving left. Kronberg questioned whether tea party efforts could change that, saying he sees “no evidence in Harris County of any significant Republican success with African-Americans.”

The tea party members admit they have already faced setbacks. MonCrief started a black tea party group, the Crispus Attucks Tea Party, which was recently kicked out of its meeting space.

Engelbrecht, who is white, said her race made it difficult for her to organize election monitoring during the midterm elections.

“If I went into a community with a bag on my head and said, ‘Isn’t it tough raising a family,’ I think we would see eye to eye. I think that we’re the same,” she said. “The parties have done a lousy job to bridge that gap.”

Both leaders remain confident that their message will prevail, however. MonCrief, who voted for Obama in 2008, said her personal disenchantment with the president is indicative of a larger sentiment among blacks that could align them with the tea parties.

“There’s a quiet murmur in the black community because nothing that he has done has helped the black community. He’s actually made it worse. People are paying more for groceries, the gas prices are ridiculous,” she said.

Claver agreed, and he said there are many hidden conservatives who are “camouflaged by race, by neighborhood.”

“These are folks that think like we do, believe like we do, agree with me on conservative issues, but they self-identify as Democrats. They’re literally voting against their values and their self-interest,” Claver said. His group has conducted polls that show 80 percent of African-Americans agree with conservative principles on social, fiscal and national defense issues.

Like the other tea party leaders, Claver blamed Republicans for “ceding the black vote to the left.” He warned, “If the composition of the Republican Party doesn’t change dramatically and quickly, the prospect of them winning elections diminishes at warp speed pace.”

That’s where Engelbrecht said groups such as King Street Patriots can help. Tea party activists have been looking for ways to remain politically involved now that the movement’s rallies and protests have faded.

“In the tea party movement, you’ve got all these people who want to do something,” she said. “Our country will not be knitted together just by forwarding emails, so roll up your sleeves.”

Correction: May 24, 2011

The article misidentified the Boots of Liberty Taskforce.

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