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Health Care Ruling Re-Energizes Tea Party

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Tea partyer William Temple protests against the Affordable Care Act before the Supreme Court announced it was upholding the constitutionality of the law Thursday. The ruling has fired up tea party groups across the country.

In upholding most of President Barack Obama’s health care law, the Supreme Court handed the tea party a new lease on life.

While activists spouted made-for-TV rancor through megaphones outside the court Thursday, the behind-the-scenes strategists who helped Republicans take the House in 2010 prepared for a flood of donations they said will fuel even greater gains this November.

“From a political standpoint, this is the best decision,” Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express, told Roll Call from his Sacramento, Calif., offices. “Obviously, this kind of a setback will re-energize them.”

The movement, born in 2009 from the opposition to the health care overhaul, has developed a professionalism that few expected, attracting seasoned operatives and winning allies in Congress. Vitriolic protests have taken a back seat to well-executed fundraising campaigns. Groups such as the Tea Party Express have raised tens of millions of dollars on the promise of derailing the health care law.

And, in many ways, Thursday’s ruling is exactly what they had been training for.

With its mission left intact by the ruling, the Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella organization that raised $12.2 million from May 2010 to May 2011, instantly launched an online petition slamming the court for ruling “against the American people” and fired off a fundraising email that a spokesman said brought in three times more money than a typical appeal.

“To those that are rejoicing that this monstrosity is partially upheld, I have got four little words for you: This is not over,” Keli Carender, national grass-roots coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, told the crowd gathered outside the court. “If you thought that November 2010 was historic, you just wait for November 2012.”

Let Freedom Ring, a Philadelphia-based tea party group, green-lighted a plan to roll out television advertisements focused on the law in key battleground states. FreedomWorks, the conservative advocacy group chaired by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), lambasted the court for “judicial activism” and pledged to “double down” its efforts to repeal the law.

And TheTeaParty.net prepared for an evening strategy session at the National Republican Club of Capitol Hill with GOP Reps. Steve King (Iowa), Jeff Landry (La.) and Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) as well as other conservative lawmakers.

Indeed, the tea party’s relationship with Washington has come a long way since Congress passed the health care law in March 2010; FreedomWorks strategist Russ Walker told Roll Call earlier this month, “the tea party has become the Republican Party.” But the outpouring of surprise and anger prompted by the court’s decision is likely to intensify pressure on candidates and incumbents to cater to tea party voters.

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