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Published March 28, 2010, 12:27 PM

Tea party group rallies in Fargo

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Tea party activists carrying flags and homemade signs took turns at the microphone outside the North Dakota Democratic convention Saturday to protest a health care overhaul measure that the state's Democratic congressional delegation backed unanimously.

By: DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

FARGO, N.D. (AP) — Tea party activists carrying flags and homemade signs took turns at the microphone outside the North Dakota Democratic convention Saturday to protest a health care overhaul measure that the state's Democratic congressional delegation backed unanimously.

One man waved a broom. "Sweep 'em out of office," yelled Carl Hedman, who came from Ellendale, about 140 miles southwest of Fargo.

More than 100 protesters braved light rain, sleet, a 25 mph wind and temperatures in the 30s outside the Fargo Civic Auditorium. But the three Democrats who backed the health legislation — Sens. Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan and Rep. Earl Pomeroy — were not within earshot. They were inside the convention.

"When is Earl Pomeroy going to come out and talk to us?" asked Gabe Denton, of Wahpeton, referring to three empty chairs that a rally organizer had set up on a sidewalk to mock the lawmakers.

Conrad and Dorgan were getting a much warmer reception inside the convention while the protesting went on. Conrad was among the speakers, and Dorgan was given a tribute.

Convention attendees highlighted Dorgan's 41-year career as a North Dakota tax commissioner, congressman and U.S. senator. Dorgan, 67, who has been a senator since 1992, is not running for re-election.

Several Democratic convention delegates gathered outside the auditorium to watch the rally. One passed out hand sanitizer that she jokingly referred to as "tea party repellent."

Meredith Pickett, a state Democratic Party spokeswoman, said Democrats supported the group's right to protest.

"That's their right. That's their opinion," she said. "There are hundreds of people inside who are standing with our delegation and standing with Rep. Pomeroy."

Pomeroy, who is running this year for his 10th term, and Conrad said they believe North Dakotans will support the legislation when they become more familiar with its provisions.

"We all know the (health care) status quo is unacceptable," Conrad said in a speech to delegates. "To those who still oppose the health care reform that is now the law of the land, I have three words for you: Read the bill."

Protesters held up posters to display their messages: "No to socialism" and "Enough is enough." An elementary-age student carried a sign that read, "Stop spending our money."

"Look at those signs. They are all handmade," said Tom Tolman, of Fargo. "It's a true grassroots thing."

Ross Ueckert of Beach, a town near the Montana border, said he decided to drive the 350 miles to Fargo to support the tea party movement in wake of the delegation's vote on health care.

"They passed the bill without the regard to the American people," Ueckert said. "I am now stepping out against the Democratic party because they are not listening to the people. We are losing freedoms, one after another."

Rusty Ouart, a veteran who was injured in Iraq after a 2008 mortar attack, said he's not happy with the way both parties are acting in Congress.

"I believe it's not about party issues. I believe the world changed from 2008 to 2009 when I came home from Iraq," Ouart said. "I'm tired of the fighting. I'm tired of the silliness."

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