Tea party rally falls flat

A last-minute march to stop socialist medicine draws a tiny crowd

Published March 16, 2010 7:11PM (EDT)

Walking into the Capitol from the Metro Tuesday morning, I spotted a smallish crowd gathered down Constitution Avenue, waving flags. It looked like a mini-rally; a particularly well-organized group pushing some obscure, but popular, cause -- say, a limited ban on slaughtering ugly puppies -- might have been pleased with the turnout. There couldn't have been more than 1,000 people there at the beginning of the event.

As it turns out, that was the latest incarnation of the tea party protests against socialist healthcare. The movement that claimed, for no good reason, that more than 1 million people gathered on the National Mall on Sept. 12 to protest healthcare reform had suddenly gone flat. Sarah Palin helped promote the Tuesday "Code Red" rally on her Facebook page; more people commented on or gave a virtual thumbs-up to her link about the rally than actually bothered to show up, by a huge factor. (An organizer for Tea Party Express, one of the groups that promoted the rally, told CNN they counted about 2,000 or 3,000 people.)

Democrats were gleeful. The Democratic National Committee decided, based on their own informal headcount, that there were only 300 people at the rally. Spokesman Hari Sevugan sent out a list of "12 things that have had more than 300 people attend/participate in," including "any flight to Las Vegas," "a New Jersey Nets home game," and "screenings of 'Gigli'."

What the low turnout might mean, besides the fact that getting people to show up for something at 10 a.m. on a random Tuesday isn't easy, is that tea partiers have already resigned themselves to the healthcare bill passing, and they're looking ahead now to getting revenge on the people who did it. The Washington Independent's Dave Weigel, who hung around the rally for a while, reports that many of the GOP lawmakers who spoke there think Democratic leaders have the votes to prevail.

By Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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