By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 21, 2010; 8:45 PM
RICHMOND - Virginia's top three elected officials, including Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, will speak at the state's first "tea party" convention next month, a sign that the grass-roots movement has grown in strength and popularity.
About 3,000 people are expected to attend the event Oct. 8-9 in Richmond, just three weeks before the midterm elections.
McDonnell and Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R) will participate on a panel about reforming state government, while Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) and former governor George Allen will speak about federalism.
"Between last year and now, it's night and day in terms of their level of organization and skill," said Noah Wall, political director for Cuccinelli, one of the first Virginia politicians to embrace the tea party movement. "I think you can see their influence growing in Virginia. . . . I think this shows they're doing what they need to do to be an effective political force."
Other confirmed speakers include radio host Lou Dobbs; conservative commentator Dick Morris; Reps. Ron Paul (R-Tex.) and Steve King (R-Iowa); and Virginia Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The event will include seminars on history, public policy and grass-roots activism, as well as a presidential straw poll and a congressional town hall meeting for each Virginia district.
Jamie Radtke, chairman of the Federation of Tea Party Patriots, which is organizing the event, said many of the participants expected at the convention have never been active in politics before.
"This is a whole segment of the population that has been disengaged," she said. "We want to educate and motivate."