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GIBSON CITY — The tea party is down but not out, say Jan and Phil Peterson of the Ford County Tea Party.
“I think we were kinda in shock when we got defeated so badly,” Jan Peterson, who heads the group, said of the results of the November election, including the re-election of President Barack Obama and Republican losses in Congress and the Illinois General Assembly. “I think we need to go back to the old Republican Party, before it got dominated with people who had their own special interest and don’t listen to the people anymore. They need to go back to that and talk to us. They are out of touch with the American people.”
Added her husband: “A lot of people were shocked. We had no situational awareness at all of what was coming. We had no perception of what was coming.”
A Rasmussen Reports poll last week found that only 8 percent of Americans say they are members of the tea party, down from a high of 24 percent in April 2010, just after passage of Obama’s health care law.
“I don’t think our membership is down. I think people are not in the open as much as we were 3-1/2 years ago, when things started. People are still as active, we’re just more behind the scenes now,” Jan Peterson insisted.
Phil Peterson said that in Ford County, almost half of the Republican Party committeemen are affiliated with the tea party. But he acknowledges that Ford County is an outlier.
“We’re an extremely conservative county,” he said. In fact, Obama got only 27.6 percent of the Ford County vote in November, among his worst showings in Illinois.
But he still thinks the rest of the country eventually will come around to Ford County’s thinking.
“Many of us have the opinion that until people actually suffer a little bit and see the consequences of electing some of these guys, that you’re not going to be able to talk to them and reason with them,” he said.
It’s not the message that’s the problem, Jan Peterson said, it’s the messengers.
“We were working our tails off all over the country. We were doing our part. But the Republican Party in Washington and in Springfield was not doing its part. That’s really why we lost it. That’s my thinking anyway,” she said.
Her husband agreed, saying Republicans are “the crummiest communicators in the world.”
He said his group will continue to work with “the Republican Party and other organizations that have conservative values” and will begin to gain disciples again.
“We haven’t gone anywhere. We’re just sort of biding our time and picking our arguments and our issues closely,” he said. “We have not gone away. We will not go away.”