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Kinder says Tea Party will have 'huge' impact at polls this fall

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2010 - While state Rep. Allen Icet, R-Wildwood, was holding a rally Saturday afternoon in St. Charles to promote his bid for state auditor, a few allied Republicans had chosen instead to travel downtown to the Gateway Arch grounds for a larger event.

It was the rally to mark the one-year anniversary of the conservative Tea Party movement.

Local Tea Party leaders had opted to hold Saturday's event as scheduled, even though it conflicted with Missouri Republicans' annual Lincoln Days festivities, held this year at the St. Charles Convention Center.

And most of the GOP conventioneers stayed in St. Charles, according to one of the few who did make it downtown, local Tea Party co-founder Gina Loudon (left).

Loudon, wife of former state Sen. John Loudon of Chesterfield, says Saturday's event underscores that it would be a mistake to assume that most Tea Party supporters are automatically aligned with the Republican Party.

"They're fiercely independent. They don't want to be identified with any party," said Gina Loudon, whose Tea Party ties have won her national exposure (and event a stint on comedian Jon Stewart's "Daily Show").

But Loudon adds that she hopes the Tea Party movement and the GOP "can work symbiotically."

Her husband, the former senator, is now spokesman for the Ensuring Liberty political action committee considered part of the Tea Party movement. And one of the Loudons' daughters has started a "Tea Party Youth" group that has about 1,300 fans on Facebook.

"My hope is the Tea Party will remain independent but will look to support candidates who believe what they believe," Gina Loudon said. Those candidates may or may not be Republicans, she added.

At Lincoln Days, a number of top party leaders and speakers made clear that they are counting on the Tea Party movement to draw voters to the polls to support Republicans.

When asked how important Tea Party votes will be for Republicans this fall, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder boiled it down to one word: "huge."

Kinder said in an interview that he's been reaching out to Tea Party activists for some time, and he hopes the Tea Party movement recognizes the importance of backing Republicans at the polls.

"Their natural home is with us," Kinder said, citing what he viewed as like-minded stances on taxes, health care, energy and the social issues.

Because of the convention schedule, Kinder said he was unable to make it downtown for the Tea Party event.

Gina Loudon said she understood why many fellow Republicans at Lincoln Days couldn't break away for a few hours Saturday to show up at the riverfront to join Tea Party activists. But she added that she wished more of her party had taken the trouble.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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