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Tea Party Activist: It Was Worth 'Getting In The Ring'

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It's been a tough week for the Tea Party and its supporters in Congress. The Affordable Care Act survived the Capitol Hill standoff largely untouched. President Obama and the Democrats stared them down and won. And fights with establishment Republicans revealed the depth of division within the GOP.

Public opinion polls show support for the Tea Party has fallen dramatically — to its lowest point ever. But Tea Party activists say that the movement isn't going away.

Sal Russo of the Tea Party Express, one of largest such groups in the nation, was philosophical about what many say was a losing battle to begin with.

"You fight every fight, you know, ideally to win," he says. "But sometimes, you know you have a long shot at it, but it's worth getting in the ring and giving it a shot, and that's what we did."

Russo also predicts that you'll see a re-energized and motivated Tea Party in the year leading up to 2014's midterm elections.

"I don't think you're ever going to repeat the huge wave of 2010, but I think it's going to be stronger than 2012," he says. "I think people are ginned up and saying, 'Look, we can't just keep spending money like drunken sailors.' "

Asked about falling public support for the Tea Party, Russo says polls go up and down.

But Tom Zawistowski, who heads the Portage County Tea Party group in Ohio, says such polls aren't to be believed because of the way the president, the Democrats and the media portray them.

"We don't have horns — you know, we're not from another planet," he says. "We're just like all the other people listening to your show. And we have our own life experiences and we see things in a certain way."

When asked what comes next for them, he points to elections coming up on Nov. 5. And he's talking 2013, not 2014.

"We're engaged with school boards, and we're out interviewing school board candidates, and we're talking to township trustees and city council members," he says. "Those are important people. They serve us as much as the guys in D.C., if not more so."

A major force behind the Tea Party has been the Washington, D.C.-based organization FreedomWorks. Matt Kibbe, the group's CEO, said on C-SPAN on Friday that it's the Republican Party — not the Tea Party — that needs to learn from this week's events in Washington.

"Everything's more democratized," he says. "And Republicans should come to terms with that. They still want to control things from the top down, and if they do that, there will absolutely be a split. But my prediction would be that we take over the Republican Party, and they go the way of the Whigs."

The Whig Party, of course, dissolved in the mid-1800s.

But there are also plenty of questions ahead for the Tea Party: Will it be able to recruit good candidates? Will it be able to raise money as it has? And how will the events of this week affect how general-election voters view the organization?

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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