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5 Years On, Tea Party Patriots 'Making A Difference,' Co-Founder Says


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

The election season of 2014 kicks off this week. Yeah, it's that time again. On Tuesday, Texas will hold the nation's first primary. Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn faces a challenge from a Tea Party candidate. And in a moment, we'll get some more detail about that election and other elections to watch this season.

First though, we are going to hear more about the Tea Party movement. This past week, the Tea Party Patriots, one of the biggest Tea Party groups in the country, celebrated its fifth anniversary with a convention here in Washington, D.C.

With us now is Jenny Beth Martin. She's the director and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. Welcome to the program.

JENNY BETH MARTIN: Thanks for having me.

LYDEN: So, Jenny Beth, what did you do to mark this five-year anniversary of the Tea Party?

MARTIN: This past week, we had in Washington, D.C. And we had speakers from Capitol Hill including Senators Mike Lee, Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, along with Congressmen Jim Jordan, Michele Bachmann and others. And then we had grassroots speakers from around the country who've sustained this movement over the last five years.

LYDEN: Let me just ask you, let me just ask you, Jenny. I mean, five years on, where would you say you are? And how, from your perspective, how effective do you think the Tea Party has been?

MARTIN: Well, five years ago, on February 27, 2009, we had 35,000 people in attendance and about 36,000 people around the country were talking about Tea Party protests. Today, there's hardly a political conversation that does not include the Tea Party. So we're making a difference. And we have focused the attention on Capitol Hill to focus on being responsible with the tax dollars that we earn. And we're going to continue to do that and make sure that we have a debt-free future for our children.

LYDEN: Let me just ask you. You mentioned that a lot of lawmakers came and addressed the conference - Senator Rand Paul, Senator Ted Cruz. Now, the Tea Party has a lot of supporters inside the Congress. I'm wondering if at this point you really even think of yourself as an outsider group in Washington, D.C.

MARTIN: Well, we have quite a few people in Congress who support our values. And the movement is made up of people across this country. The people who ware inside the Capitol supporting our values are supporting the values of the people across America. We will encourage them. And when they don't, we will remind them that that's what Americans want and that's how they need to represent us.

LYDEN: Jenny Beth Martin, a poll show a pretty mixed picture of attitudes about the Tea Party, to say the least, with a number of them saying that far more people view it negatively than positively. What's your reaction to that?

MARTIN: The more that we talk about the things that other Americans want, the rest of America wants, we know that's the power of America. And we will make sure then that Washington does the same thing.

LYDEN: Let's talk about one place that sort of attitude and power gets tested and that, of course, is in the elections. Now, Republicans need to six seats in order to take back control of the Senate this season. A number of these senators are facing Tea Party challengers. What do you think the chances are of Tea Party candidates defeating incumbent Republicans, especially in the Senate races?

MARTIN: We are looking at - we're focused on South Carolina and Mississippi. And also, we're looking at Kentucky right now as places where we're looking for primary challenges. And then we're also focused on open seats, such as in Iowa and Montana. And we're looking at North Carolina. So North Carolina would be for more focused for the general election. And we're going to do that and talk to Americans about the things that we care about. And we know that if we do that, and we go and talk directly to voters, we can get them to vote for the candidates who are going to support the same goals that they want for our country.

LYDEN: Jenny Beth Martin is the director and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots. Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

MARTIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.