Tea partiers from across Beaufort County expressed optimism Sunday afternoon that the movement would increase turnout at the polls nationwide Tuesday.
Local members and about 100 people of varied political affiliations gathered for a "Restore America" rally Sunday in St. Joseph's Park in Bluffton's Calhoon Street Promenade -- not to spread the word about voting, but with an interest in making the country better, said Jane Kenny, an organizer of the Tea Party Patriots of Bluffton, which hosted the event.
"It's not a 'get out the vote' rally, although we do encourage our members to study the candidates, know the issues and vote," said Kenny, a Sun City Hilton Head resident. "We are at a very critical time and a lot of people are concerned about the state of the country."
Members of the county's other tea party organizations, including Beaufort Tea Party and TEA Party of Hilton Head Island, were present to support the cause, she said. For about two hours, the crowd listened to several local speakers, who criticized budgetary spending and the health care legislation and took jabs at President Barack Obama.
Kenny said members of her group don't want to persuade anyone to vote any specific political party, but felt tea partiers have had an impact on getting people to the polls.
In an effort to educate Bluffton tea party members, organizers researched each local candidate and mailed out a profile of everyone on the ballot.
"That's the difference between us and the parties -- we don't care who you vote for," she said. "We would be pleased if candidates were elected who supported the causes we believe in."
Bob Oldendick, a political science professor at the University of South Carolina, said the tea party movement might have an impact on local races, but doubted it would increase voter turnout because most tea partiers are those who already are more interested and involved in politics and would vote under any conditions.
"It is possible ... in certain local races where a candidate for mayor or for county council has adopted those positions or is actively courting those voters, it could have some effect," Oldendick said. "But generally, the tea party won't have much of an effect on local races in this general election. In terms of the issues, most of those who identify with the tea party movement would usually be voting for Republican candidates anyway."
Although the Tea Party Patriots of Bluffton did not endorse candidates this election cycle, Kenny said the party actively worked against two Democratic state legislative candidates because they resembled "Socialist Democrats."
She added many local tea party members will work Tuesday at the polls and will be on the lookout for possible voting fraud.
"There are illegal immigrants and dead people voting, and voter registration fraud is rampant in other parts of the country," Kenny said.
Regardless of the outcome of local and national elections, tea partiers from across Beaufort County said Sunday their fight for fiscal responsibility, limited government and free markets will not end Election Day.
Charles Early, board member of the Charleston Tea Party and the Black Conservatives of South Carolina, said he believed the country is at its "most critical time."
Early, a speaker at Sunday's event, said state party members have geared up for Election Day and like him, many will work at the polls to ensure "all the rules are being followed."
"I think tea parties are going to astound the country on Election Day," he said after Sunday's rally. "But it goes beyond Nov. 2. We have not yet begun to fight."