Will Tuesday be tea time across state?
They've turned out by the thousands for rallies at the U.S. Custom House and in the hundreds at Cannon Park. Several dozen have boarded buses to join similar rallies in Washington, D.C.
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But will the Lowcountry tea party activists show up at the polls Tuesday in numbers that will change outcomes?
For a clue, wander down a private alleyway off Calhoun Street, where the Charleston Tea Party maintains a small office where its lower-profile work takes place.
Mike Murphree, a former Dorchester County Councilman, chairs the Charleston Tea Party and said it's currently working on two projects, an online straw poll and a blast of e-mails encouraging members to vote Tuesday -- the first statewide election since the grassroots movement was born.
Murphree said the movement's goal is to keep members active.
"Don't sit home because (Texas Congressman, former presidential candidate and tea party idol) Ron Paul is not running to be your governor," he said.
But Murphree did not predict that its members would decide any contests.
The Charleston Tea Party's e-mail list has about 3,000 members -- less than 1 percent of the tri-county electorate, and it also has been slower to endorse candidates than similar groups elsewhere. One of its local heroes, state Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, dropped out of the GOP gubernatorial primary months ago.
"I was really disappointed," Murphree said of Grooms' decision. "The man had wonderful ideas. He just didn't get the traction that he needed."
Also, the intensely independent nature of the tea party movement means its members won't always march in step.
"It drives people crazy. (They ask) who's in charge? Well, you are. You're that individual we're looking for," Murphree said. "Your participation makes you in charge and engages you into the movement, and the movement is to move us back to a more constitutional framework, backward from where we are now."
As proof the tea party movement doesn't speak with one voice, the Boiling Springs Tea Party has endorsed 1st Congressional District hopeful Tim Scott, while the Myrtle Beach Tea Party backs his opponent Larry Kobrovsky. Yet another group, the Carolina Patriots, held a straw poll and concluded Mark Lutz would be the best choice.
A recent Rasmussen poll found 46 percent of U.S. voters saying the tea party movement is good for the country, while 31 percent disagreed. Thirteen percent said it's neither good nor bad.
But only 16 percent of voters say they are actually tea partiers themselves.
Rasmussen's report didn't list any South Carolina races among the contests where tea party unhappiness with incumbents is playing a key role, partly because relatively few high-profile incumbents here are seeking re-election. And the one who is -- U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint -- is one of the movement's heroes.
The early online polling by the Charleston Tea Party shows that DeMint is very safe, but not Treasurer Converse Chellis. Voting will remain open until late today, Murphree said.
South Carolina Republican executive director Joel Sawyer said the tea party movement's influence will be impossible to predict.
"I think if you look across the nation at some of the races where people have talked about a tea party impact, there have been a lot of factors that have affected the outcome of that race," he said. "It can be an oversimplification about whether the tea party was the deciding factor in those races."
While those in the tea party movement often describe themselves as independent and upset with both major political parties, Republican candidates on almost every level have courted the movement, while Democratic ones rarely mention it.
State Democratic Chairwoman Carol Fowler doubted the tea party movement would affect voting in Tuesday's Democratic primary.
"We did focus groups a few months ago in different parts of the state, and one of the things we saw that really stood out are the people who identified with the tea parties were unhappy with the Republican party," she said. "They said, 'We are independents. We are not Republicans. They are not conservative enough for us.'"
Murphree said while he hopes conservative candidates do well Tuesday, the key will be maintaining interest in the movement long after those polls close.
"It took 98 to 100 years for the progressive movement to get us where we are today," he said. "It's going to take 98 to 100 years to turn that tide back to where you are constitutionally sound, where your Bill of Rights means something."