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Republicans woo 'tea party' members, but face activists' distrust of GOP

Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) -- a heroine of the tea-party movement who is collecting a reported $100,000 to headline next week's Tea Party Nation convention in Nashville -- went so far as to suggest the GOP merge with the grass-roots movement.

"Definitely, they need to merge," Palin, now a Fox News pundit, said on the air Thursday. "I think those who are wanting the divisions and the divisiveness and the controversy -- those are the ones who don't believe in the message. And they're the ones, I think, stirring it up. We need to ignore that, and we need to forge ahead with a cohesive message."

Trust issues

But a merger has major obstacles -- not the least of which is that tea-party leaders want nothing to do with any political party.

"People are so angry they don't even want these political parties at their events," said Dale Robertson, president and founder of, which he said has 6 million members. "I've been attacked viciously by Republican groups. They've called me all kinds of slanderous names."

Robertson said he has reached out repeatedly to Steele but has been rebuffed. "He hasn't called me back," Robertson said. "I find that disconcerting."

Armey said tea-party activists resented that some Republican officeholders disparaged them when they began organizing last winter. "They said we're not real, we're unpatriotic, we're cuckoo birds," Armey said. "And these people are about as normal as anybody under the sun."

Republican officials meeting here said the key to establishing trust with tea-party groups may be through individual candidates.

"I don't think we can broker any kind of deal between their national leadership and our national leadership that will bring thousands of tea-party voters to the Republican Party," said Nick Ayers, executive director of the Republican Governors Association. "These are smart people who make their own individual decisions as to who they'll support. . . . We have to win these votes candidate by candidate, race by race, state by state."

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