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The Tea Party brings its message of 'repeal, reduce, restore' to the Arch

Roy Blunt, left, with Dick Morris 9.12.2010
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Beacon | 2010

Missouri's Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, Roy Blunt, didn't have to say a word Sunday when he unexpectedly took center stage at the downtown Tea Party rally on the grounds of the Gateway Arch.

Touching off deafening cheers, the congressman from southwest Missouri joined conservative commentator Dick Morris, who did all the talking and the attacking. Morris explained that political comments by Blunt would violate the event's edict barring speeches by candidates.

That didn't apply to Morris, who ignited rounds of appreciative shouts when he asserted that Democratic nominee Robin Carnahan was unqualified to sit in the U.S. Senate and hadn't performed well as Misouri secretary of state.

Morris then predicted the defeat on Nov. 2 of a number of Democratic incumbents in the Senate.

"Barbara Boxer (from California), good bye!" shouted Morris. "Patty Murray (Washington state), good bye!"

The audience cheered even louder when he added Democratic Sens. Russ Feingold of Wisconsin and Senate leader Harry Reid of Nevada.

The crowd also went wild when Morris asserted that Republicans will gain 60-80 seats in the U.S. House, more than enough to take control.

The credit, he said, would go to the Tea Party movement. "You are saving us by purifying the Republican Party!" Morris declared.

Dozens of lesser-known speakers made similar assertions and predictions during three hours of speeches before an enthusiastic crowd of thousands that packed the stairs leading from the Arch to the riverfront.

The key messages -- decrying federal bailouts, increased spending and the expansion of federal power -- echoed those that have driven the growth of the Tea Party movement since shortly after President Barack Obama took office in January 2009.

Sunday's biggest target: the new federal changes in health-care coverage and insurance. Speaker after speaker ignited the crowd into chants of: "Repeal, reduce, restore!"

Such points resonate with supporters like Mary Kathryn Victor of Glendale, who said she's convinced that costs for everything from health insurance to utilities and food will soon skyrocket. And she blames the Democrats running Congress and the White House.

"My country is at the door to socialism," said Victor. "As a retired teacher, I know that leads to communism."

She was accompanied by Marie Moloney of St. Louis, who called for congressional term limits, as well as cuts in congressional pay and an end to their pensions. "We don't get it. Why should they?" Moloney said.

She was among several in the audience who said the nation's problems really go back 100 years, when the federal government began to expand.

"Our country is in distress," said David Goddard of Piedmont, Mo., as he explained why he was carrying his American flag upside down.

St. Louis Tea Party founder Bill Hennessy recalled the first fledgling rally at the Arch in Febary 2009, and told Sunday's larger crowd that it was up to them to pack the polls on election day and change the nation's course.

"We're afraid of the future, of the debt," Hennessy said, "We're going to give Barack Obama the lesson of a lifetime."

Although officially the Tea Party movement doesn't endorse candidates, it was clear Sunday that many area Republican candidates hope to benefit. U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country, stopped by, as did 3rd District GOP congressional hopeful Ed Martin.

The National Rifle Association had a table promoting Blunt, while volunteers at a tent nearby distributed literature for Bill Corrigan, the Republican nominee for St. Louis County executive.

Some trash cans had been adorned with stickers reading, "Dump Dooley," a reference to the incumbent Democrat, St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley.

State Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, was among the politicians who'd stopped by to listen to the speeches and mingle with the crowd.

Lembke said he was glad that Blunt had shown up -- and gone on stage. Lembke acknowledged that Blunt earlier had been criticized over his support of increased federal spending when Republicans controlled Congress during the Bush administration. But now, said Lembke, Blunt "has certainly recognized that the public wants the federal government to live within its means."

In addition, Lembke added, the size of Sunday's crowd "shows again that the people are energized" -- and prepared to make their preferences clear in November.

Proposed cuts at town hall: Departments of Education, Energy

Later Sunday, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder kicked off a town hall in Clayton conducted by the "Spending Revolt National Bus Tour" that earlier had joined in the Tea Party rally.

At the town hall, area Republican congressional candidates Ed Martin and Robyn Hamlin participated in a discussion about how best to cut down the size of the federal government. Also joining in: Bev Ehlen, state director for Concerned Women for America, one of the sponsors of the bus tour.

Ehlen and Hamlin, who is running in the 1st District against Democratic incumbent William Lacy Clay, both called for eliminating the federal Department of Education -- long a conservative target. Both women said education should be left entirely to the states.

Martin highlighted the rapid growth of the Department of Energy, which was created in the late 1970s under President Jimmy Carter in a merger of several federal energy-related agencies and with the additional charge of focusing on ways to end the United States' dependency on foreign oil.

While not opposed to some of the department's responsibilities, others could likely be eliminated or reduced, Martin said.

But the town hall's chief focus, as at the rally, was on the federal health insurance changes. All the speakers asserted that costs will rise, unless -- as Ehlen suggested -- the nation ends the 60-year-old practice of linking coverage with jobs. Only then will the free market prevail, she said.

Hamlin said that Americans need to accept more personal responsibility and recognize that "we are not our brother's keeper."

On Monday, the Spending Revolt bus is to stop in Jefferson City for a 10 a.m. news conference in the state Capitol. Then it travels to Springfield, Mo., for a 5:30 p.m. event in Doling Park. Some Republican candidates may show up, including 7th District congressional nominee Billy Long.

This article originally appeared in the St. Louis Beacon.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.