Harrisburg, Pa.—With a record 700-plus participants this year, the annual Pennsylvania Leadership Conference was widely considered one of the most successful of the conservative conclaves since it was first launched back in 1990.
The most striking aspect of last year’s Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (PLC) was the number of first-time attendees—nearly all of whom had been energized by the fledgeling Tea Party movement. Tea Partiers are a growing force among Keystone State Republicans, and were major players last year in the elections of Sen. Pat Toomey (R.-Pa.) and five new Republican House members from Pennsylvania.
This year, the Tea Partiers were again out in force at the PLC, and made it clear that, when it comes to Republican politics in Pennsylvania, they are growing stronger and not going away.
“I’d say we’re not part of the Republican Party, but certainly sympathetic to Republican candidates,” said Dan Mosel of Dauphin County, one of the founding fathers of the Tea Party movement known as the Central Pennsylvania Patriots.
Mosel eagerly recalled to me how, when they were launched three months ago, the Patriots had 300 members sign up and 150 come to their first meeting. In his words, “I was blown away.”
The issues that motivate Mosel and his fellow Patriots, he explained, “are Obamacare and taxes. We’re having two doctors speak at our next meeting on why ObamaCare has to be repealed. And we’ll get more involved at the grassroots level in 2012.”
Tea Partiers are even more involved in Lebanon County, according to GOP County Committeeman Jeff Griffith. He noted how last fall, “more than 40 new members were elected to the [Republican] County Committee and we removed the chairman, who was not sympathetic to the Tea Party movement.”
Replacing Chairman Adam Gingrich (“related to Newt, I think,”) said Griffith, is Pat Braden, who, Griffith said, “is much more sympathetic to us.”
Lebanon County’s Griffith described himself as “more of a social conservative—I believe in strong families and that moral issues are important.” But he added that he was closely watching the ongoing controversy over the budget showdown because “this is a clash between what we are fighting against and what we are fighting for. It’s really about the Tea Party movement.”
Many of the state legislators who attended the PLC were aware of the growing political muscle flexed by the Tea Party movement and made it clear they were listening to the activists. Perhaps Fred Anton of Philadelphia, the leading organizer of the PLC since it was founded, put it best: “The Tea Party is here in a big way, and they are in the Republican tent.”