SANFORD, Fla. -- It was billed as "A Conservative Roar from the I-4 Corridor: The Bye-Bye Obama Party," but given the relatively small size of the gathering in central Florida on Saturday, maybe it was more of a growl.
Still, what the 250 or so diehard conservatives who gathered in this town just north of Orlando lacked in numbers, they made up with enthusiasm.
Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain, the keynote speaker at the event, humorously batted back what he said were attempts to discredit the tea party movement and made frequent jabs at Washington in his remarks.
"You see, the liberals, the left, the Democrats -- they have stooped to a new low," Cain said. "Trying to intimidate people into not coming out to rallies like this.
"They call me racist. I haven't figured that one out yet," the African-American business executive continued to titters. "Uncle Tom, sellout, Oreo -- the list goes on."
"How about Mr. President?" an audience member shouted.
Cain grinned widely.
The afternoon event had the feel of a county fair with a political twist. There were booths manned by tea party-affiliated groups, local Republican candidates, talk radio stations, vendors hawking Ronald Reagan buttons, liquor in abundance -- even a recitation of the Declaration of Independence by three children, the so-called "Trustees of Liberty."
When talk turned to politics, organizers and attendees had no shortage of rage to express about the state of affairs in Washington.
Charlie Klein, a 76-year-old veteran and a volunteer for the organization Get Out of Our House, a nonpartisan group that seeks to "evict" members of Congress, had some choice words for "those idiots in Washington."
"I didn't serve this country to have a corrupt, dishonest government," Klein said, adding that he believes the political system favors those who can buy influence.
The tea party-fueled wave that swept in 86 Republican members of Congress last year, giving their party control of the House, didn't do much to mollify Carol Taylor, either. Also involved with Get Out of Our House and a frequent volunteer with tea party groups, the 45-year-old Florida native said not enough has been done to rein in federal spending and roll back regulations.
"I'm not happy with either party," Taylor said. "You turn on the nightly news and every headline is about government gone wrong."
But the exasperation with the political establishment was accompanied by a strong sense of accomplishment at what the tea party has been able to accomplish over the last year. Despite a recent dip in the movement's favorability ratings, activists insisted that they will continue to be a force in politics.
"There's a sense of optimism because there's a movement, and we know there are people with the same opinions," said Michael Koch, who is involved with the Fair Tax Patriots.
Substitute teacher Peter Lee, 42, said he started the East Side Tea Party last November with four people -- one of whom was his wife. Now, the group has 400 members and the attention of Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who participated in a conference call with Lee the other day.
"We've blossomed, and not because of corporate donations," Lee said. "We're still here to keep the conversation Constitution-based."
As for the I-4 corridor -- the famed thoroughfare in Florida that cuts across the middle of the state and is said to hold the key to capturing this important battleground state for any presidential contender -- Duane Coffey, president of the Eastern Orlando Tea Party, has no doubt which way it will swing next year.
"Florida will be a red state," Coffey said.
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