Voting Today? Watch Out for the Fake Tea Party

Come on, admit it: At some point on your way down the ballot, you just turn off your brain and start filling in the bubbles that correspond to your party affiliation. This is especially true when you get down to, say, commissioner of agriculture and state representatives that you've never heard of.

A scan of the ballot this year reveals three foreboding letters alongside DEM and REP: TEA. What appears to be the Tea Party's first foray into statewide third-party candidacy brings us an agriculture commissioner (Ira Chester) and a state rep in the 96th district (Jason Weakley). Is the tea party becoming a legitimate third contender?

Don't count on it. "The TEA political party is not connected to us or any other Tea Party groups," says Everett Wilkinson, director of the South Florida Tea Party. Instead, some say it's a Democratic ploy to divert right-wing votes to candidates who won't win.

Check out this New York Times article from last week, which links Alan Grayson to the "Florida Tea Party," the political organization responsible for the TEA candidates. At the helm are political consultant Fred O'Neal and against-the-grain conservative Doug Guetzloe:

The "Tea Party" in Florida was formed and registered with the state in 2009 by an Orlando-area lawyer, Frederic B. O'Neal, with help from a longtime client, Doug Guetzloe, an activist, radio host and Republican operative in a running feud with his party, who has earned a reputation as a political trickster. (On Friday, Mr. Guetzloe was sentenced to 60 days in prison for a misdemeanor campaign violation relating to an anonymous political flier he sent four years ago, but his sentence does not start until after the election.)

"They've never gone to a tea party event," says Wilkinson, who filed a lawsuit against the jail-bound Guetzloe, whom he said was "bent on the destruction of the Tea Party movement."

Writing in response to the lawsuit, Guetzloe certainly sounded like a legitimate Tea Partier: "Anyone that would deliberately disparage the tea party effort in this manner is not a Patriot," he wrote.

Wilkinson said that some of the candidates who are running live 400 miles from their prospective office and that "they were promised things" in return for their candidacy. Ira Chester is supposedly strapped for cash in his personal life.

Might as well get used to it, Tea Party Patriots. This could be sign that you're maturing: Democrats and Republicans have to deal with all kinds of disparate nutjobs seeking acceptance under their respective big tents.

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