LAS VEGAS — Tea party activists want to turn conservative anger over the health care overhaul into political muscle in November elections as they call thousands to the hardscrabble desert town that is home to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
Sarah Palin is headlining the event Saturday in Searchlight, about 60 miles from Las Vegas, and a strong turnout could help affirm the popularity of the loosely organized tea party movement and build momentum against Reid and other Democratic candidates who backed health care reform.
The national media lens will be focused on the former mining town, sending images across the country. Some worry it has the potential for violence: Bricks have been hurled through Democrats’ windows and at least 10 members of Congress who voted for the bill have received threats. In the run-up to the health care vote, racial epithets aimed at black members of Congress were heard at protests attended by at least some tea party members.
Some have even accused Palin of inciting violence after she urged supporters on the social networking site Twitter to: “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!”
“The tea party has one big challenge between now and November and that is policing itself,” said Bill Whalen, a fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and a speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign. “There is a lot of bitterness in politics today, and unfortunately it’s much too close to the surface. You can plan a rally for 5,000 people, and if one person does something horrible, the rally was not successful.”
Some rallies have featured protesters carrying holstered handguns, legal in some states. No violence has been reported.