Cane Bay football on probation

Jeff Cruce

From the U.S. Customhouse steps in Charleston to parks across the nation, a loose group of conservatives upset with their government rallied publicly for the second straight April 15th to call for change.

This year's event was somewhat different from last year's, with many Republican candidates' signs vying for attention with the handmade signs typical of the grassroots tea party movement.

Bob Walbaum, a carpenter who lives on Johns Island, showed up with a handmade sign that read "Stop Spending."

While some in the Charleston crowd held signs bashing Republicans and Democrats -- including one with a donkey and elephant and the message "Cull both herds" -- Walbaum said he didn't think he had much choice other than voting Republican.

"But I'm going to pay more attention to the primary instead of just taking whoever they give us because they gave us George Bush," he said. "George Bush said we have to abandon capitalism to save it. That just doesn't make sense to me."

While some observers estimated that this year's crowd was smaller than the approximately 2,500 who gathered last year, tea party volunteer Barbara Pruiett of Mount Pleasant guessed that it might have been larger. Police didn't provide official crowd estimates in either year.

Pruiett attended last year's rally too, and said the group remains loose-knit.

"It's not a cohesive group. There are a lot of people from different philosophies and different beliefs," she said. "The tea party is just a bunch of citizens who want to get together and say how we feel."

The rally was held on the day Americans were due to file their federal income taxes, and this year's messages seemed to center on fiscal conservatism and opposition to the new federal health care law.

Lee Edwards, a Republican hoping to unseat Democratic state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, was one of several down-ballot GOP candidates who attended the rally, even though none got a chance to address the crowd. "We live in scary times. We live in a country at the risk of going bankrupt," Edwards said.

Thursday's tea party event ranged from the silly, such as when emcee and radio personality Rocky-D told the crowd, "If you get chilly, just remember, that's how Mr. Pelosi (husband of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) feels every morning," to the serious, as when physician Scott Wingo talked about the nation's health care system.

Wingo praised how successful businessmen endowed the nation's great medical centers, and while he didn't praise the recent reform, he said finding a way to cope with the uninsured is a challenging issue.

"We as Americans must not leave the poor and less fortunate behind," he said.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Bonneau, fired up the crowd early with a passionate speech about the dangers of big government. "When government takes 100 percent of your income, you are a slave," he said. "You are a slave to socialism."

In Columbia, Gov. Mark Sanford showed that he remains popular among the tea party supporters he let down last year when he went from a rising star advocating their aims to a confessed adulterer.

The Republican governor won applause at a tea party rally at the Statehouse where more than 1,000 people gathered.

"I don't stand as tall as I once did," Sanford said. "But what I do know and what I take solace in is God can use imperfect people in all walks of life."

The nation's founders, Sanford said, took into account that men failed and that faith was better placed in God and laws.

In Washington, several thousand rallied in Freedom Plaza in the shadow of the Ronald Reagan office building, capping a national protest tour launched in the dust of Nevada and finishing in the capital that inspires tea party discontent like no other place.

Allied activists demonstrated from Maine to Hawaii in smaller groups, all joined in disdain for government spending and what they see as the Washington tax grab.

The Washington rally was spirited but modest in size, lacking the star power of tea party favorite Sarah Palin, who roused the masses at earlier stops of the Tea Party Express on its cross-country bus tour.

Earlier Thursday, South Carolina Democrats weighed in to counter any notion that this year's tax picture was more burdensome.

U.S. House Majority Whip and 6th District Rep. Jim Clyburn said the 25 tax cuts in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help save South Carolina families and businesses millions of dollars.

"Tax cuts are the biggest individual piece of the Recovery Act," he said. "President Obama and Congress gave 95 percent of working Americans one of the largest tax cuts in history through the Recovery Act."

South Carolina Democratic Party Executive Director Jay Parmley said the tea party events aren't about taxes or fiscal conservatism. "This is about being out of power, and Republicans are spending millions of dollars all across the country to spread lies and misinformation about the average citizen's tax burden," he said.