Gubernatorial candidates woo Tea Party

    Tea Parties and other conservative grassroots groups are rapidly becoming a major force in Republican politics. As an indication of the movement’s clout, gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer trekked out to Carbon County earlier this week to appear at a forum sponsored by a local 9/12 Project.

    Tea Parties and other conservative grassroots groups are rapidly becoming a major force in Republican politics.  As an indication of the movement’s clout, gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer trekked out  to Carbon County earlier this week to appear at a forum sponsored by a local 9/12 Project.

    [Audio: 100331SD912.mp3]

    [AMBIENT SOUND]: [crowd sings “God Bless America”]

    It’s a cold, dreary night in Jim Thorpe, Carbon County.

    A surprise snow storm is winding down outside Penn’s Peak, a mountaintop concert venue resembling a large log cabin.

    Inside, Corbett, Rohrer, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta and lieutenant governor candidate Steve Urban are standing at attention in front of a three-story tall American flag, as singer Jean Andrews  closes the books on the local 9/12 Project’s candidates’ forum.

    9/12 projects, which have formed across the country in the past year, take their direction from Fox News host Glenn Beck.

    They organize around a set of nine principles and 12 values, including the statement, “the government works for me. I do not answer to them, they answer to me.”

    For the previous two hours, the candidates answered questions on topics like property tax reform, the new federal health care law, the state budget and illegal immigration.

    AUDIENCE MEMBER: “What will you do to enforce the laws and give jobs back to Pennsylvanians, and have the illegals taken from our areas?”

    Rohrer wins sustained applause for his plan to eliminate property taxes, which he calls unconstitutional.

    ROHRER: “Not one person sitting in this room, or across this commonwealth, owns your homes tonight. Not one person owns their private property. I guarantee you, if you fail to pay your rent to the government in the form of that tax check, your landlord, the government, will throw you out of your home.”

    And Corbett spends a chunk of his opening statement defending his recent lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law.

    CORBETT: “What we are doing is protecting the individual’s right to choose. The individual’s right, in this case, to do nothing. Not to engage in commerce.”

    The Rohrer campaign has invested a lot of energy in reaching out to the state’s tea party and 9/12 movements.

    Corbett has a big advantage over Rohrer when it comes to resources, name recognition and polling numbers.

    Galvanizing the conservative grassroots movement may be Rohrer’s only chance to make the race competitive – so the reactions of audience members Pat Seyford and Linda Buchfeller are exactly what the campaign wants to hear.

    SEYFORD: “Well, I never heard of Mr. Rohrer before, but I love him. I think he’s great. He’s got guts. I think he’s the kind of leader we need to -we need more of.”

    BUCHFELLER: “Actually I didn’t know anything. This is the first time – I met his wife tonight. And the first time I’ve heard him speak. And I was very impressed. And I’m a Republican, but it doesn’t bother me that he’s not supported by the Republican Party.”

    Bob Dages, a landlord from Jim Thorpe, liked Rohrer’s property tax plan.

    DAGES: “And there will be a poster on my porch for Sam Rohrer unless there’s something that comes up that reconfigures my thinking.”

    Corbett hopes Rohrer’s vote for the 2005 legislative pay raise might do that for conservative voters.

    He broached the issue when a questioner asked about the pay raise, calling the vote “the big elephant in the room.”

    But the Attorney General never explicitly told audience members that Rohrer voted “yes” on the pay raise.

    Rohrer didn’t either – though he did point out he never accepted the pay increase, and called it “unconstitutional” and “immoral.”

    While the predominantly conservative audience was a bit of a “home field crowd” for the Berks County lawmaker, who bills himself as a “constitutional Republican,” the attendees greeted many of Corbett’s responses with sustained applause, as well.

    Corbett says he and grassroots conservatives won’t agree on every single issue, but argues his track record and leadership style will ultimately win over the state’s tea parties and 9/12 Projects.

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