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Local Political Watchers Prepare for Tonight's Tea Party Debate in Tampa

Bloomingdale resident Jeff Lukens is among those who have been invited to watch the debate live.

While members of local Tea Party groups and Republican clubs make plans to cheer on their favorite candidates at Monday night’s Tea Party Express debate, members of the East Hillsborough Democratic Club are planning a strategy for protesting outside the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Bloomingdale resident Angie Angel, president of the Democratic Club, is organizing protesters at the Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church at 8119 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Tampa, just down the street from the fairgrounds before dispersing to strategic locations along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and U.S. 301.

Angel noted that CNN, which has leased the fairgrounds for the debate, also is allowing peaceful protests in the public access area near the CNN bus.

She is calling on all local Democrats to come out from 6-9 p.m. and support the protest rally. The debate, to be televised live on CNN, begins at 8 p.m.

 “We need folks for this protest rally. Just come out for an hour if that's all you can spare,” said Angel. “We will have signs, but if you want to make or bring your own, please do.”

“Let's give them a taste of things to come when they are in town for their 2012 convention,” added the Rev. Charles Mckenzie Jr. of Spring Hill Missionary Baptist Church.

In the meantime, members of the Brandon 912 and the Pinecrest 912, chapters of the Tea Party group, the Tampa 912 Project, which hopes the influence the September 2012 elections, will host a debate watch party at Ker’s WingHouse of Brandon, 5003 U.S. 301 N.

CNN and the Tea Party Express, along with more than 100 local Tea Party groups from every state across the country, will team up Monday, Sept. 12, to present a first-of-its-kind debate from the site of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Eight Republican presidential contenders will face questions from moderator and lead political anchor Wolf Blitzer during the two-hour event, which will air live on CNN from 8-10 p.m. from the Florida State Fairgrounds.

Participating in the debate wil be Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

The debate will focus on a wide range of topics, including the role, size and scope of government, with a specific emphasis on issue No. 1 to Tea Party members: the economy.

In addition to questions from Blitzer, audience members inside the debate hall, made up in part of members from Tea Party groups in 31 states and the District of Columbia, will be invited to ask questions directly to the candidates. Questions also will be taken live from Tea Party members at debate watch parties in Phoenix, Cincinnati, and Portsmouth, VA. Online, CNN will solicit questions via comments on CNNPolitics.com, the CNN Politics Facebook page and by using the #CNNTeaParty hashtag on Twitter.

Among those who will watch the debate live is Bloomingdale political blogger Jeff Lukens, a member of the FishHawk Republican Club and the Pinecrest Patriots 912 group.

“I was identified as a Tea Party activist, one of about 10 in Tampa Bay, invited to attend the debate,” Lukens said. “It should be interesting to be part of the whole ambiance of a live debate and observe the candidates firsthand. I really believe the race is between Perry and Romney, and it will be interesting to see how things play out, whether anyone makes a mistake.”

Lukens said he also will watch to see if Bachmann tries to trip up her fellow presidential contenders.

“I like Michelle but I don’t think she has as good a chance of winning,” he said. “That’s why I’m going with Perry."

Lukens said there’s a full day of activities scheduled for Tea Party members including a series of seminars at 3 p.m. hosted by the Heritage Foundation and James Madison Institute as well as other conservative think tanks. The focus will be on getting out the vote, canvassing precincts and mobilizing Tea Party members around specific issues.

“Then Mike Gallagher with the Salem Radio Network has a dinner planned to pump everybody up for the debate,” Lukens said.

After the debate, Lukens plans to attend an after-debate party at the Wing House, 5003 U.S. 301, Tampa, with Perry supporters. Perry is expected to attend.

Also happening Monday, Perry’s wife, Anita, and Santorum are expected to drop by the Brandon Republican headquarters at Oakfield and Lakewood drives to meet with supporters.

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