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GOP Members Embrace ‘Tea Party’ Activists

Updated: 5:40 p.m.

Republican Members of Congress welcomed the swell of “Tea Party— protesters to the National Mall on Saturday, calling the rally the “largest gathering of conservatives in Washington— in recent memory.

“There are some politicians who think of you people as AstroTurf, un-American,— House Republican Conference Chairman Mike Pence said. “I’ve got to be honest with you, after nine years of fighting runaway spending here on this Hill, you people look like the cavalry to me.—

“Welcome to Waterloo!— Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) said, referencing comments he made several months ago about the potential of the health care debate to damage President Barack Obama politically.

While organizers and lawmakers maintained that the event was nonpartisan, most of the speakers that addressed the crowd were from Republican or conservative organizations — including Hi-Caliber, the first self-proclaimed Republican rapper.

Several GOP lawmakers who attended the protest said their chances of taking back the majority in the House and the Senate could rest in the hands of the activists.

“It will only help the Republicans if we choose to represent them and stop treating them like they are some right-wing faction,— DeMint told Roll Call. “If Republicans have enough sense to see that this is America, we can take back the majority otherwise we’ll stay where we are.—

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) agreed that Republicans would do well to harness the energy generated by the Tea Party movement and its participants.

“It is definitely more conservative and I think many of these individuals when it comes around to 2010 … they are going to be involved in campaigns and they are going to work with those who are conservative, committed to lower spending, lessening regulation, getting our fiscal house in order,— she said.

The flag-waving, sign-carrying crowd began forming around 9:30 a.m. and steadily grew until tens of thousands of Tea Partiers packed the West Front of the Capitol to Third Street Northwest to express their opposition and anger with a broad range of Obama administration policies. Homemade signs ranged from slogans like “Bury Obamacare with Kennedy— to depictions of Obama, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Adolf Hitler. Dozens of signs in the crowd read “You Lie!,— an homage to Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), who yelled the words during Obama’s health care speech to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

Organizers said 450 buses full of people had come to Washington to attend the event, sponsored by FreedomWorks, an organization led by former Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) and conservative groups Tea Party Patriots and ResistNet. An estimated 30,000 people registered on FreedomWorks Web site that they planning to attend.

In order to get an accurate count, several speakers encouraged the crowd to text message “Freedom— to MyUSA so organizers could get a count independent from media estimates.

Throughout the event, organizers took to the stage to proclaim that 1.5 million people had attended the rally and that the Capitol Beltway had shut down because of the number of people that were still trying to get into the city.

These reports could not be independently verified, but some roads immediately around the Capitol were shut down by protesters.

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