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Faces of the Tea Party - Bringing political street smarts

Tea Party organizers always stress that their groups are nonpartisan - which is to say that elected officials in both parties have earned loads of abuse - even if the majority of their members do align with conservative Republican ideology.

But 86-year-old Christine Murdoch, a key player in the St. Joe County Tea Party Patriots, does nothing to conceal her individual preference.

"I’m both Republican and Tea Party," she says. "I don’t know any Democrats."

Nor does she intend to. Murdoch’s lawn, under a canopy of old oak and maple trees not far from Notre Dame University, is peppered with signs supporting local and federal level candidates - all from the GOP. In this town, which has long been run by Democrats, her property is a small island of staunch Republicanism.
Murdoch worked many years in the local Republican Party and she hopes that the Tea Party will infuse energy into an effort that has at times seemed a lost cause.

"We have been beaten down so many times by the Democrats in South Bend," she says. "Our Republican people are older, tired, and they have done this so much. The Tea Party people are so passionate. They will really get out and go door to door."

Despite her refined demeanor, Murdoch is a woman who clearly thrives on action and excitement. The octogenarian, a former physical education teacher, is still an avid scuba diver, teaches ballroom dance and until a few years ago was piloting small planes in cross-country races.

But the valuable thing she brings to the Tea Party is political street smarts. In decades of work in the Republican Party, Murdoch says she has helped prepare candidates for the process and the public; she’s taught them how to raise money, what to expect from the media, even how to select yard signs.

Now she is helping neophyte activists better understand the political structure and translate their enthusiasm into strategy.

In one example of disarray, Tea Partiers in Indiana supported four little-known candidates in the primary election in an effort to seize the Republican nomination for Senate from longtime GOP candidate Dan Coats. The Tea Party-supported candidates split the votes, so none had a prayer of beating the well-recognized politician.

"They didn’t win and they were expecting to," says Murdoch. "They needed to realize what it’s all about and they can’t be naïve and too idealistic." But, she adds, "They are going to learn and they have learned."

For her, the best outcome would be for the Tea Party to shed the whole notion that it is non-aligned.

"Ideally," she muses, "If (the Tea Party) could kind of merge with Republicans we would get more action and passion in both groups."

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