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Originally published Thursday, April 16, 2009 at 2:55 AM

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GOP hopes to build momentum behind 'tea parties'

Republicans have lost their grip on Congress and the White House, but they claim to have American anger over taxes and the economy on their side as tens of thousands turned out for anti-tax "tea parties" around the country.

Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA —

Republicans have lost their grip on Congress and the White House, but they claim to have American anger over taxes and the economy on their side as tens of thousands turned out for anti-tax "tea parties" around the country.

Wednesday's rallies used the dreaded April 15 - the U.S. deadline to file income taxes - as a hook to vent about government spending and corporate bailouts in an homage to the Boston Tea Party.

The tea parties were promoted by FreedomWorks, a conservative nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington and led by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, who is now a lobbyist.

Organizers said the movement developed organically through online social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and through exposure on Fox News and promotion from conservative pundits and bloggers.

While FreedomWorks insisted the rallies were nonpartisan, they have been seized on by many prominent Republicans who view them as a promising way for the party to reclaim its momentum against President Barack Obama's administration and other Democrats.

"All you have to be is a mildly awake Republican candidate for office to get in front of that parade," said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Some Republicans considering 2012 presidential bids and others with upcoming campaigns for state and congressional offices hitched a ride with the movement.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took the podium in front of New York's City Hall while the crowd of about 2,000 chanted, "We are America!"

He urged people to tell their lawmakers to vote against big spending or else "we're going to fire you."

As the former House speaker left after his 11-minute speech, passers-by yelled, "2012, Newt!" and "Run for president!" But when asked about a run, Gingrich shook his head emphatically and said, "I'm just part of a citizen movement."

Another possible candidate, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, sent an e-mail to his supporters, letting them know about tea parties throughout the state. South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford attended two tea parties.

"This is critically important, what you're doing," Kansas Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, a likely candidate for governor in 2010, told the crowd in Topeka. "You've got to keep it up."

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry, facing re-election next year, told protesters in Austin that officials in Washington have abandoned the country's founding principles of limited government. He recently rejected $550 million in federal economic stimulus money slated to help Texas' unemployment trust fund.

While the political implications of the rallies remain to be seen as Obama's administration pursues its economic recovery plan, thousands of protesters turned out in loud and colorful ways to express their frustration with Obama and Washington in general.

Indianapolis small business owners Ben and Bree Finegan brought their two children to a local rally. Two-year-old Kate held a sign from her stroller reading, "In diapers & in debt."

The crowd in Carson City, Nev., included a 5-year-old boy holding a sign that read, "My share of the national debt is $36,500." Some wore cowboy hats with tea bags dangling from them.

In Boston, a few hundred protesters gathered on the Boston Common, a short distance from the original Tea Party in 1773. Some dressed in Revolutionary garb and carried signs that said "Barney Frank, Bernie Madoff: And the Difference Is?" and "D.C.: District of Communism."

In Atlanta, thousands of people gathered outside the Capitol, where Fox News Channel conservative pundit Sean Hannity broadcast his show Wednesday night. One protester's sign read: "Hey Obama you can keep the change."

Julie Reeves, of Covington, Ga., brought her Chihuahua, Arnie, who wore a tiny anti-IRS T-shirt. "I want the government to get its hand the hell out of my wallet," Reeves said.

Duncan Philp, of Carpenter, Wyo., carried a flag in Cheyenne reading "Don't Tread on Me" and dragged a United Nations flag on the ground. Philp said he's a member of the Wyoming Tyranny Response Team, a group dedicated to the Bill of Rights.

He said Congress ignored Americans' request not to bail out financially troubled banks.

"Bush and Obama have done the same thing," Philp said. "They've given out loans for money they don't have."

In Helena, Mont., protesters stomped on boxes labeled to represent various taxes, such as income and a proposal to tax carbon dioxide output.

"It's a stepping stone to one day being able to tax you for the very air that you breathe," said event organizer Jim Walker.

There were several small counter-protests, including one that drew about a dozen people at Fountain Square in Cincinnati. A counter-protester held a sign that read, "Where were you when Bush was spending billions a month 'liberating' Iraq?" The anti-tax demonstration there, meanwhile, drew about 4,000 people.

Some Democrats said the Tax Day rallies offered little substance.

"The Republicans are going to have to do more than their standard rhetoric about taxes in order to be successful. They need some new ideas," said Brian Schatz, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party. "It's a tired old line of attack."

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Associated Press writers who contributed to this report include Beth Fouhy in New York; Kelsey Abbruzzese in Boston; Terry Kinney in Cincinnati; Seanna Adcox in Columbia, S.C.; Kelley Shannon in Austin, Texas; Virginia Byrne in New York; Herbert A. Sample in Honolulu; Cathy Bussewitz in Carson City, Nev.; and Matt Joyce in Cheyenne, Wyo.

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On the Net:

http://taxdayteaparty.com/

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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