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Guinta plans to play role in Tea Party

Future rep says he'll join caucus

Elected Tuesday with the support of Tea Partiers and pledging deep cuts to federal government, Frank Guinta will soon be one of many freshman House Republicans left to figure out where the fledgling movement fits within the halls of Congress.

The former Manchester mayor has said he would join a House Tea Party Caucus created this summer by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Republican from Minnesota. So far, the caucus counts 52 members and represents the first formal organizing of the movement at a congressional level.

Sergio Gor, Bachmann's spokesman, described the caucus members as 'constitutional conservatives.'

'It's people who believe the government's got too big, taxes are too high and really government should get out of the way,' Gor said.

The Tea Party cause gained momentum shortly after President Obama took office last year, driven by a nationwide movement of activists espousing an anti-tax, limited government philosophy.

Though Guinta didn't openly tout his Tea Party support in commercials or debates, he promoted getting rid of the federal departments overseeing education and energy among other cuts to governmental functions not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.

During the Republican primary, he easily won a straw poll held by the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition, taking 81 percent of the vote. Guinta's margin of victory over his Republican challengers was the most decisive of any contest featured in the Tea Party poll.

Guinta said at the time that he was honored by the results of the straw poll and cited his attendance at several Tea Party events, as well as gatherings for the 9/12 movement started by Fox News commentator Glenn Beck.

Dante Scala, chairman of the political science department at the University of New Hampshire, said that compared with Charlie Bass, the Republican elected Tuesday to his former 2nd District seat, Guinta is more beholden to the Tea Party movement because of the support he received during his campaign.

'In some ways, you've got to dance with the people who brung ya',' Scala said. 'This will be where the rubber hits the road as far as how far he'll take some of the strands of the Tea Party.'

Bass does not plan to join the Tea Party Caucus, spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said.

'As Charlie pointed out, a caucus in Washington is kind of antithetical to what the Tea Party is all about,' Tranchemontagne said. 'He recognizes, in respect to the Tea Party, it is not about a caucus in Washington - it's about people on the streets of New Hampshire and across the country.'

A caveat-based approach to the newly formed caucus was also taken by Guinta's primary challengers Sean Mahoney and Rich Ashooh.

Ashooh told the New Hampshire Union Leader the movement had been successful because it had not been co-opted by Washington, and he would only join the caucus if 'they sincerely focused on lowering taxes and limiting government.'

Mahoney said he would join 'if it supports lower taxes, constitutional principles and less government.'

George Lovejoy, a former state senator who heads the New Hampshire Advantage Coalition, a member group of the state Tea Party Coalition, said he would support Guinta joining the Tea Party Caucus.

'I think that that's something he should do - have conversations with people who want to get the country back on track,' Lovejoy said. 'That's what we elected him for.'

Lovejoy described Tea Partiers as people with 'a great patriotic fervor and a belief in the free enterprise system.'

'I don't know how anyone could disagree with that,' he said.

Bachmann's caucus is remarkable for elevating what has been considered a grassroots movement onto a congressional platform. But whether it will actually affect policy is unknown. House caucuses are organized around topics that range from Algerians to songwriting, and they meet with varying frequency and depth.

Gor described the Tea Party Caucus as 'a listening mechanism for regular Americans.'

'Instead of putting a filter between the American people and members of Congress, the Tea Party Caucus facilitates meetings for regular Americans to be able to directly speak to members of Congress,' Gor said.

Scala said he is interested to see how the Tea Party Caucus grows and establishes itself.

While he said it makes sense that the movement's tendency toward limited government would connect strongly with New Hampshire voters, it is unclear whether the group will also become a tent for social conservatives.

'There's the social conservative message that you heard from some Tea Partiers, and I'm not sure that resonates quite as well with New Hampshire Republicans,' Scala said. 'I don't think people elected Guinta last night based on his positions on social issues.'

That general uncertainty about what the Tea Party stands for and how it would translate into governance also appears to have influenced Bass's evolving affiliation with the group. Guinta is pro-life in all circumstances and opposes same-sex marriage; Bass is more moderate on social issues.

Back in February, Bass announced his candidacy by embracing the Tea Party.

'God bless every single one of them,' he said. 'Because, you know what, their agenda is exactly the same as mine.'

Yesterday, Tranchemontagne said Bass 'should have been a little more specific.'

'On all the spending and the fiscal issues, he's right there with the Tea Party,' he said.

In Bachmann's letter requesting the establishment of the Tea Party Caucus, she noted concerns voiced by members of the Committee on House Administration that the caucus 'may face roadblocks due to the perceived political nature of the label 'Tea Party.' '

However, she said the caucus would 'do nothing more than promote the timeless principles' on which the country was founded.

'The Tea Party is strictly issue-based in nature, promoting policies of fiscal responsibility and limited government with a strict adherence to our Constitution at the forefront,' Bachmann wrote. 'By rejecting such an organization, we would be silencing the voices, values and principles held dear by millions of Americans.'

(Matthew Spolar can be reached at 369-3309 or mspolar@cmonitor.com.)

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