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Tea Party boils from the bottom up

From Jessica Yellin and Kevin Bohn, CNN
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Tea Party activists vow pressure
  • Tea Party is here to stay, two Kentucky activists say
  • CNN interviewed the activists to get better idea of what Tea Party members believe
  • Shrinking government, stopping deficit spending are high on list, they say
  • Two predict more Tea Party candidates will run against those backed by GOP establishment

Covington, Kentucky (CNN) -- Duane Skavdahl and Cathy Flaig emphasize that they and fellow Tea Party activists shouldn't be counted on as automatic for either political party.

Skavdahl and Flaig have been active in the movement since it began a year and a half ago. Now leaders of the northern Kentucky chapter, they issued this warning for those who think the Tea Party is a passing fad: "If you don't support us, then we are not going to support you in future elections," Skavdahl said while sitting in his law office. "We are not going away. We will be there."

Added Flaig, president of the chapter: "The Tea Party is now in its infancy. Wait until we grow teeth."

Last month, Republican Rep. Geoff Davis spoke at a town hall meeting put on by the chapter, which now has about 300 members. Some attendees warned Davis that the Republican Party shared the blame for too much spending in Washington.

What got Skavdahl and Flaig most worked up was that the federal government -- unlike their families -- cannot keep its finances in order.

Video: Tea Party activists: Here to stay

Asked what happens to those elected who don't vote the way he wants, Skavdahl pointedly told CNN, "We will turn on them as fast as we turned on other people. We are tired of people -- we elect them and then all of a sudden they go soft."

Flaig quickly jumped in: "Some of the Republicans we have elected, they have said they are conservative. They all say it before they are elected, but when they get in office, are they really doing what they were supposed to be doing, and they are not."

We sat down with Flaig and Skavdahl to get a better sense of what activists believe and where they see the movement heading during a recent CNN Election Express bus trip through Kentucky. Tea Party members here were a key factor in Rand Paul's capturing the state's Republican Senate nomination, and he has gotten support from Tea Party members across the country.

Flaig, who owns a welding and steel business with her husband, wants to clear up a misperception that the movement is made up of only one type of person.

"The Tea Party is made up of blue-collar, white-collar, business owners, doctors, lawyers, young, old," she said. "We all are the same people in this country, but we all have different lives that we walk.

"We just want the government out of our lives. We just don't want the day-to-day spending of money again. You cannot spend more money than you make. If you make three dollars, you can't spend four. It is just simple mathematics."

Skavdahl, who first got active in the Cincinnati, Ohio, branch as the movement began, now serves as vice president of the northern Kentucky chapter. He thinks there is a reason why the movement is taking off now.

"Not only have we become energized, we also become knowledgeable," he said. "In the past we were busy raising our families. We were content to let the politicians do what they did because we thought they had our best interests at heart.

"We have figured out, no -- the only people who we can rely on are ourselves, so that is why we are not going away."

Key to the movement is a core set of principles: shrinking government, stopping deficit spending and passing laws only in which the Constitution clearly gives Congress the power to do so.

This is how Flaig summarizes them: "Rein in the spending. We don't need the size of the government we have. There is nothing in the Constitution that says we need all these grandiose things."

Like some candidates running for office this year, Skavdahl and Flaig say they would like to see government entities like the Environmental Protection Agency abolished, and others like the Department of Education dramatically scaled back.

During the primary season several Tea Party-supported candidates, such as Paul, have defeated those backed by the Republican establishment. Flaig and Skavdahl predicted more such fights ahead.

"I think you will see the Republican base more aligned with the Tea Party than the Republican leadership," Skavdahl said. "The Republican leadership wants to maintain its position of power, not change. That is where the fight is going to be."

Both Skavdahl and Flaig said the key to making sure their beliefs are enacted is through the ballot box, and only those with proven conservative credentials will get their support.

"If we are going to change, we have to change it through elections, by electing people who will do the things we want them to. It is the only way it is going to change," Skavdahl said.

How long will that take?

"It could take several election cycles," he responded.

And to the contention of some experts that the Tea Party won't be around that long, Flaig vehemently disagreed: "Count on it," she said. "Count on it."