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From Elizabeth Letchworth of GradeGov.com this morning comes her assessment of her experience with the Tea Party Express tour and Presidential Debate.  This appears in Sunshine News, a Florida online politics and business newspaper.

Behind the Scenes With the Tea Party Express

By: Elizabeth Letchworth | Posted: September 15, 2011 3:55 AM
Elizabeth Letchworth mugElizabeth Letchworth

This past Monday night was a historic moment for the tea party movement in America. This celebrated event occurred when the first-ever Tea Party Express/CNN televised GOP debate was aired from the state fairgrounds in Tampa.

The attendance at the tea party Republican debate in Tampa was standing room only, representing 47 different state tea party groups. As the event unfolded with pre-debate dinners and Jumbo-tron watch parties, the partnership between CNN and Tea Party Express seemed as natural and American as apple pie and baseball. Both CNN and the Tea Party Express represent a broad spectrum of America. The viewers of CNN encompass all American demographics, ages, races and education levels. The same is true of the tea party movement in America.

This same broad spectrum of American uniqueness was fully represented on the 5th Tea Party Express bus tour entitled “Reclaiming America,” which criss-crossed our country. This particular Tea Party Express bus tour was designed to bring the tea party message to as many folks in America as possible, leading up to the debate Monday night. This tour began in Napa, Calif., on Aug. 27 and concluded in Tampa on Sept. 12.

When the bus pulled into Tampa, it had marked its 301st bus stop rally for the TPX team, after logging 6,100 miles over 17 long days of bus riding. Their message is simple: End the bailouts, shrink the size of government and out-of-control spending, as well as ending government-run health care and stopping the government from raising taxes.

The bus tour brought this message to folks from California to Maine to Florida via nationally recognized recording artists, Hollywood comedians, radio talk-show hosts, rapper Polatik, as well as authors, professors and bloggers. All of these able folks willingly gave of their time and talents, without any monetary compensation.

Tea Party Express chief strategist Sal Russo and chairwoman Amy Kremer provided overnight hotel accommodations, logistics and the customary meals each day. This writer was invited to attend the tail end of the bus tour and can attest to the meals consisting mainly of frozen hot pockets, burgers, fries and lots of homemade cakes and pies from generous well-wishers donated along the 6,100-mile journey.

The 17-day bus ride began most days with impromptu prayer sessions, which typically led to discussion time of personal concern for various family members and friends. It goes without saying that before long, the conversations turned to the obvious political discussions, led at times by Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips or blogger Eric Odom.

Peppered in between were work sessions led by Sal or Amy and, of course, laughter initiated by “Home Improvement” actor and comedian Jimmy Labriola and “Saturday Night Live” comedienne Victoria Jackson. After a few hours of highway riding, music by Lloyd Marcus, Diana Nagy, the Rivoli Revue and David Saucedo aka “Polatik” would begin to permeate the air until the bus stopped at the next rally, in the next town, in the next state, all on the way to its ultimate goal — the GOP debate in Tampa.

The shows performed at each rally stop were full of music, laughter, tender and funny stories, as well as serious moments with messages. These messages were often delivered by local politicians or led by a constitutional author, Mike Holler, radio talk-show host Andrea Shea King or Ukraine businessman Feliks Sukhovistky. Each rally-stop always included an inspirational story told by Gold Star Mom Debbie Lee, who lost her son, Marc Alan Lee, as the first Navy Seal to be killed in Iraq.

Finally, former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle spoke at most rally stops about the current national political process and the state of our union. Attendees were sure to be entertained, educated and enjoy lots of laughs and even some tears before the usual 90-minute rally concluded.

To those who claim that the tea party movement is funded by wealthy GOP operatives, I would invite them on the next TPX nationwide bus tour. I would encourage them to bring an open mind, a jar of peanut butter and jelly and a comfortable pillow. This writer is guessing that they will witness America in all its uniqueness, glory and warts.

I am also betting that they leave the bus tour a bit sore in the backside, but warmed to the idea that the CNN/TPX partnership was just as the producers of CNN and the founders of the Tea Party Express predicted it would be — a broad spectrum representing all of America.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of Gradegov.com