Organizers of the Freedom Jamboree announced Wednesday that they have canceled the tea party convention planned for this fall, citing low registration.
They had hoped the event would serve as a stage for Republican presidential candidates to court the conservative movement, and two — Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) — had already confirmed they would attend.
The weekend of reflection and strategizing was scheduled for Sept. 28 to Oct. 2 in Kansas City, Kan., and included a straw poll. Twenty-one local tea party groups started it with the intent to reclaim the movement from national umbrella groups and offer an alternative to the annual fall tea party rally on the National Mall.
“We were doing it because we were fed up with the infighting that these umbrella groups have done in 2010,” William Temple, a lead organizer who lives in Georgia, told Roll Call.
He cited low registration in an email Wednesday informing activists about the cancellation. He said that finances weren’t an issue, but a June financial report posted on the organization’s website showed that only about $10,000 had been raised for an event that was supposed to attract hundreds of tea party groups from across the nation.
Only 62 tea party groups had committed to attending, well under the 350 that Temple estimated would be needed to break even.
The $10,000 was raised through sponsorships, donations, registration and vendor fees, and Temple’s email said it all would be returned.
“Unlike the federal government, we decided that we didn’t want to do any deficit spending,” he told Roll Call.
The jamboree is the second national tea party event to be canceled because of low registration numbers. Last year, the Tennessee-based Tea Party Nation nixed plans to host a gathering in Las Vegas. At the time, the group blamed summer travel plans and the heat for driving attendees away.
As it turned out, the Midwest didn’t prove any more ideal.
“The majority of the responses that we’ve gotten in the last month were that although [tea party members] support it, they are not prepared to travel all the way to Kansas City,” Temple said.
He added that the movement has lost some of its steam since tens of thousands of activists protested on Capitol Hill against the health care overhaul in 2009 and 2010. But Temple, who has been active since the beginning of the movement, said it is far from over.
“You’re going to see a lot of very active people in 2012,” he said. “I think that’s what people are waiting for. 2011 may not be what they wanted to spend their energy on.”
He struck a less optimistic tone in his email to fellow activists and warned about fractures in the movement.
“It appears the Tea Party horse is riderless, and riding off in all directions at once,” he wrote.