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Conservative and Tea Party Rallies and Trainings Dominate the Capital: Are Progressives and Liberal Democrats About to Be Out-Organized?

Conservative protests in Washington show the breadth of energy and money marshaled to organize the right-wing base, while progressives lag behind.

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On the other side of the National Mall, at the venerable Mayflower Hotel, Ralph Reed gathered his faithful on Sept. 10-11 for a conference and "strategy briefing" hosted by his new organization, the Faith and Freedom Coalition, which is organized as a convergence of the religious right and the Tea Party movement with a focus on turning out the vote in key precincts across the country. If Reed's star has tarnished a bit since he was revealed to have, while working with Abramoff, duped James Dobson and religious-right followers into opposing one Indian tribe's proposed gambling operation because he was secretly in the service of a competing gambling operation, his prowess as vote-getting strategist remains unchallenged.

For his conference, Reed drew together a roster of right-wing stars to gin up several hundred activists for his cause, including former Bush operative Karl Rove, the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins, the Daily Caller's Tucker Carlson and Newt Gingrich, who served a menu of Islamophobia and Obama-bashing. (Before the weekend was out, Gingrich would tell National Review Online's Robert Costa that President Barack Obama may subscribe to "a Kenyan, anti-colonial worldview.")

Meanwhile, at the Washington Monument on Sept. 11, a Tea Party group called Unite in Action brought together some of the right's fringier personalities, including Alan Keyes, now an activist with Randall Terry's Insurrecta Nex; actor Stephen Baldwin, purveyor of a Jesus-on-steroids version of Christianity; and an Oath Keepers leader, unnamed on the rally roster, to administer the group's oath for law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces who pledge not to obey any order they deem unconstitutional.

Coming on the heels of Glenn Beck's big rally two weekends ago, none of this weekend's events constituted a major draw on the order of last year's 9/12 march, but that doesn't mean the confluence is insignificant. The fact that they had any draw just weeks after the Beck rally is meaningful, and the sheer proliferation of right-wing events in Washington, within days of one another demonstrates the breadth of energy and money marshaled to organize all factions of the right-wing base.

Add in the sums projected to be spent by these groups for midterm election campaigns and messaging, and it becomes clear their impact is about far more than Tea Party boots on the Capitol grounds on a given weekend. According to a Democratic strategy memo, obtained last month by Huffington Post's Sam Stein, outlining the electoral threats facing Democratic candidates, FreedomWorks has pledged to spend $5 million; Faith and Freedom Coalition $11 million; and Karl Rove's American Crossroads $52 million. (American Crossroads' spending commitment is more than organized labor spent on the 2008 presidential election.) In Stein's report, another operative says Americans for Prosperity is pledged to spend $45 million in the midterm campaigns, though when I talked to AFP president Tim Phillips in July, he said he hoped to spend three times that amount. Asked where he hoped to get that much money, he replied, "Hard-working Americans." He declined to say whether or not his organization was getting corporate donations of any size.

Though all these entities compete for attention and resources -- and infighting within the Tea Party movement continues unabated -- when push comes to shove, the efforts of most will be united in their march to defeat Democrats in the fall, and in 2012. While each of the major groups has its particular focus -- FreedomWorks is a secular purveyor of free-market ideology, Faith and Freedom Coalition is religion-focused, Americans for Prosperity targets older people -- their leaders seem to be making token gestures to those of competing constituencies, in order to bring them all together in November.