Joel Mowbray
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With attendance bursting at the seams, this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference clearly benefited from the new recruits and fresh energy stirred up by the nascent tea party movement.

But the secret ingredient to the enormous success of this year’s largest-ever CPAC was the steady hand of experienced leadership behind the scenes that ensured everything went smoothly. It is precisely that kind of skillful guidance that will be needed for the tea party movement to coalesce and realize its enormous potential.

Spontaneous, grassroots uprisings are exhilarating and the tea parties and health care townhalls last year helped flatten the Democratic surge. And Scott Brown effectively tapped into the energy source for his stunning victory last month in Massachusetts. That was just one race, however, and it was the sole focus of the nation for its last week.

Nationwide Congressional elections this November are the playing field of established parties with infrastructure and truckloads of cash. That doesn’t mean the tea partiers won’t be able to exert leverage on the races, but giving proper voice to those disaffected by big government and irresponsible politicians will require leadership and sophisticated organizing.

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The conservative movement—groups ranging from Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation to the National Rifle Association—helped pave the way for the tea party revolt of 2009. And conservative activists, including supporters of these longstanding grassroots groups, comprised a large percentage of the attendees at tea parties.

But how exactly the energy, message and political newcomers generated by tea parties transforms into a part of the conservative movement or the GOP hasn’t yet been sorted out. Based on talking to CPAC attendees, it’s safe to say that at least several thousand of them went to a tea party or health care townhall.

If attendance at CPAC is any indication, the Republican National Committee isn’t much interested in interacting with and listening to motivated conservative activists. RNC Chairman Michael Steele spoke at CPAC, but according to former Michigan GOP Chairman Saul Anuzis, of the 168 RNC national committee members, only three spent real time at the conference.

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Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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