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Tea Party Crashing Establishment CPAC To Hang With 'Fellow Conservatives'

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The Tea Pary Express, founded by GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh, is hosting a "mini-rally" Friday night at CPAC. The Tea Party Express has coordinated several major events with Republican Dick Armey's group FreedomWorks. Armey also will speak at CPAC.

"This is the only conference that's specifically branding itself conservative, there are going to be a lot of our friends there," Levi Russell, a spokesman for the group, told TPMDC.

He said tea party "patriots" from across the country will be attending and that the groups aren't worried the event is too establishment.

"We'll have a great time at CPAC with fellow conservatives," he said.

There are several tea party events on the CPAC agenda, including a discussion called "Saving Freedom One Patriot at a Time," starring Ginni Thomas of, Dana Loesch of St. Louis Tea Party, John O'Hara, author of A New American Tea Party and Jenny Beth Martin of the Tea Party Patriots.

Colin Hanna is hosting a "REAL Tea Party & Book Launch" on Friday, and that night a CPAC film festival will show the 90-minute Tea Party documentary.

(TPM's Rachel Slajda watched that last year so you don't have to.)

RNC Chairman Michael Steele huddled with some leaders from the tea party movement (while others weren't involved) for several hours yesterday, attempting to show them he wants to cooperate with the movement, not absorb it.

CNN reports:

Indeed, when a group of participants were asked after the meeting if they consider themselves Republicans, nearly all shook their heads and boasted that they were "American citizens." Others said they knew of fellow Tea Party activists who refused to come to the meeting because they do not trust the Republican leadership.

Steele, however, won over many in the group when he pledged that the Republican Party will not to meddle in local races - especially GOP primaries featuring candidates backed by Tea Party activists. At one point in the meeting, the divisive Senate primary battle in Florida between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist was mentioned. The chairman said the role of the national party is to back whoever becomes the Republican nominee.

"He is leaving it up to the people, and that's what we want," said Cheryl Couture, a member of the 9.12 Project from Naples, Florida. "We don't want people interfering with the process, because that's not American."

Further exposing the split today is a group of conservatives - many who will attend CPAC - signing a "manifesto" today at Mt. Vernon.

Family Research Council's Tony Perkins said on Fox News this morning, "I think over the years the conservative movement has become too aligned with the Republican Party."

Correction: An earlier version of this item incorrectly stated that FreedomWorks organized the Tea Party Express. TPE was founded by GOP consulting firm Russo, Marsh.