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Even among the most active Republicans — those who run and serve as delegates at the state GOP Convention — support has dwindled. In 2010, 85 percent of delegates backed the tea party, compared to 57 percent in the 2012 convention, according to the BYU center’s polling.
David Kirkham, the owner of Kirkham Motorsports who organized the first Utah tea-party event in mid-March 2009, says the effort has shifted to some degree but still resonates with a large group of Americans. It’s not about flowing into the streets to be heard anymore. "We’re not in the streets — we’re in [policy makers’] offices," Kirkham says.
If the tea party can distance itself from rants about social issues — specifically gay marriage — and keep the focus on paring back the government, Kirkham says, it will not only survive but thrive.
"We are going to be the party who includes people who just want to be fiscally responsible," he says. "What’s going to happen is that they’re going to be able to capture the center. Nobody likes the extremes; no one likes Nancy Pelosi or the right-wing extreme either."
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who fancies himself an original tea partier, said the movement will be alive at least as long as Obama is in the White House. The next presidential election will determine if the effort gains new vigor.
"I don’t think the frustration has waned at all," says Chaffetz. "The movement is representative of a very conservative approach to smaller, less-intrusive government. I think that has grown and expanded and it certainly has not gone away."
Chaffetz chalks up the drooping polls to people not wanting to label themselves and says the news media isn’t focused on the effort as it once was. But he says people are still vocal and will continue to be.
"I certainly hear from them," says the congressman. "They have my number."
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