Gatlinburg Tea Party convention may draw thousands, organizers say

7:50 PM, May 21, 2010   |    comments
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Thousands of tea party supporters are expected to be in Gatlinburg this weekend for the Tennessee Tea Party Convention.

Held at the Gatlinburg Convention Center, more than 35 local groups will be at the event, according to organizer Mark Harr.

"This convention is centered around concerned Tennesseans, educated about legislation process," said Harr.

One of those attendees is Mary Cook of Maryville, who recently started a tea party group in her town, after traveling to other gatherings around East Tennessee.

"We were going all over north Knoxville, Athens, Lenoir City. We just need one in our local community. We felt the need was there," she said.

A major theme of the tea party movement is grass roots activism changing government--and convention leaders say they're sticking to those roots. 

Convention leaders are touting the $30 fee to get in the event.  That's is in comparison with the more than $500 ticket price for the Nashville Tea Party, for which former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a speaker.

The movement itself has garnered a lot of attention lately, with Tea Party-backed candidate Rand Paul winning the Republican nomination for Senate and becoming a focal point.  With those signs of growing influence some some signs of negative attention.

"Saying they're kooks, and they're nuts, and they're terrorists even," said supporter Ron Cadby.  "It's absolutely ridiculous."

Convention leaders hope to see up to 2,000 people in attendance. The convention wraps up on Sunday with a gubernatorial debate. 

In a press release, Zach Wamp indicated he will be in Gatlinburg for that event. Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam will be attending, according to his campaign staff.

Ron Ramsey, whose campaign slogan of "Give Washington the Boot" dovetails with many of the tea party's stated goals, will be attending the debate.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story indicated Ramsey would not be in attendance, as he would be at his daughter's wedding. It turns out a staffer was mistaken on Ramsey's schedule: his daughter's wedding was Saturday, the debate was Sunday. Ramsey attended both.

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