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Tea Party Credited With Giving Brown A Winning Boost 02:47
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Republican Scott Brown was able to create an energy and enthusiasm in his Senate campaign that Democrat Martha Coakley could not match. Above, Brown supporters react to his victory Tuesday in Boston. (AP)
Republican Scott Brown was able to create an energy and enthusiasm in his Senate campaign that Democrat Martha Coakley could not match. Above, Brown supporters react to his victory Tuesday in Boston. (AP)

Before the Republican upset on Tuesday, you might not have heard of the Greater Boston Tea Party, once described by its founder as "a loosely affiliated group of right-wing extremists."

Now the local chapter of a national grassroots movement gets credit for helping build Scott Brown's unstoppable momentum in the U.S. Senate race.

Christen Varley, the chapter's founder, said the "right-wing extremists" part was a joke, by the way.

"What we have is a group that is pretty representative of the demographics in Massachusetts," she said to WBUR's Bob Oakes in an interview this week. "A majority of us are un-enrolled, some of us are registered Republicans, like myself, and some are registered Democrats."

While the Tea Party did not endorse any candidate, Varley said the group's members were inspired by Brown's shared vision of smaller government. ("I guess if people want to characterize that as right-wing, that's fine to me.") She recalls meeting the candidate at a fundraiser in November.

"His eyes lit up, and he's like, 'Wow, you guys are an interesting bunch. I'd like to hear more about that,' " Varley said.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Brown's campaign became a nationwide phenomenon, celebrated on conservative talk radio but largely ignored by the mainstream media. Word spread to the national Tea Party Patriots, which pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into television ads for the pickup-driving populist.

Brown's Democratic rival, on the other hand, barely campaigned after winning her party's primary election. Only at the last minute, when polls showed her losing ground, did Coakley bring in her party's heavyweights to campaign.

"Maybe there's a little bit of credit (we can take) in terms of spreading the word, because I know our members could not wait to get talking to friends and family and neighbors, spreading the word," Varley said. "Scott said to us, 'If you like my ideas and you like what I want to do, I need you to help me' — and our members went out and did that."

Varley said the Greater Boston Tea Party is not a partisan organization, and Republican candidates will get the same scrutiny as Democrats. In the upcoming race for Massachusetts governor, Varley said she would extend an invitation to meet all candidates.

"I truly believe that the people of our organization are more than fit to look at those principles that they feel strongly about — and then identify for themselves the candidate that fits the bill and then go out and support that candidate."

Benjamin Swasey contributed to this report.

This program aired on January 22, 2010.

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