AVON LAKE, Ohio -- Kay Clymer interjects things like "Oh, gee willikers" when she talks about "losing our country" to a Marxist-socialist plot.
That might happen, in her eyes, if candidates who believe in climate change are elected next week.
Clymer, a tea party organizer in this state's central coal patch, believes lawmakers are forcing people, deceitfully, to drive fewer cars, pay for expensive "clean" power, and abandon God-given resources like coal that have sustained towns and factories here for decades.
"It's a Marxist-socialist type thing -- until we break our backs. I think they want to control us. I don't think they want a capitalist society anymore," Clymer says of all but the most conservative politicians. "If you break the back of the people ... when cap and trade comes along, it's not exactly stealing."
Those concerns and others are pushing Clymer to action. She stumbled into the tea party movement last year, and inadvertently became a local leader. It was an awakening. At 65, the retired teacher has never been politically active. Now, that's about all she does. Campaigning and church, three times a week.
"I believe [the Earth] is no older than about 6,000 years," she said, pointing to her belief that fossil fuels are a divine creation. "The Lord, when he did that, he did not leave us wanting."
Conservative activists here often see climate change as a political hypothesis, not a scientific assertion. It's the foundation, many say, on which liberals and lobbyists hope to erect broad limitations on greenhouse gases. These policies, like cap and trade, are seen as an expansion of government, fueled by new fees. They're frequently denigrated.
So is climate change. Scientific findings of incremental changes, like rainfall variability and ocean acidification, are rarely mentioned by politically driven conservatives. They gravitate to the extreme future risks sometimes described by climate advocates, and express suspicion at the idea that humans are influential enough to wreak such havoc.
"I'm a science major," says Nancy Forrestal, a member of Clymer's group. "The Earth has been heating and cooling since the beginning. I mean, glaciers covered most of Ohio. Hello. They could come back, but it won't be because of us. We should be so powerful."
And if it were true, she'd be more willing to fix it if the government didn't tell her to.
"I'm all for taking steps to protect the environment," Forrestal said. "I was willing to use spray pump hair spray. I'm OK with that. But I don't want the government to make me do it."
Mandatory light bulbs! What next?
Ohio is a buffet of tea parties. Most are small. Some are not. The Zanesville Patriots, Clymer's group, has 316 people on its e-mail list. About 40 people attend twice-monthly meetings. Farther north, the Portage County TEA Party, near Akron, has 1,750 members and has hung 45,000 political fliers on doorknobs, founder Tom Zawistowski said earlier this month.
Disdain for the Obama administration's effort to regulate carbon dioxide is on a short list of top complaints among tea party groups in Ohio, whose annual output of CO2 tops 46 states. Other concerns include the new health care law, bank bailouts and stimulus funding.
The decentralized tea party groups are sometimes turning to political organizations for help with campaign training, political fliers and logistics.
Americans for Prosperity, an anti-cap and trade organization that has reportedly received energy industry funding, has toured Ohio in buses, campaigning against Democrats. The group has raised suspicions about climate change with its "Hot Air Tour." It also asked political candidates to sign a "No Climate Tax" pledge.
Fliers produced by FreedomWorks, a Washington, D.C.-based organization headed by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), warn of the "Job Killing Cap and Trade Energy Tax Hike." They are distributed to Ohio tea party groups, who use neighborhood maps generated by FreedomWorks to pinpoint homes of potential voters. The organization also holds "boot camps" for tea party campaign training.
"You're talking about costing people in their wallet," Max Pappas, FreedomWorks' vice president of public policy, said of cap and trade. "But the more important cost is their liberty, to buy the sort of light bulbs they want. Do I want the assistant deputy secretary for light bulbs to tell me what kind of light bulbs I can buy?"
Going door-to-door to thwart 'government agents'
Suspicions that government agencies would tell homeowners how much electricity they can use and what kind of water heater to buy make Al Bota uncomfortable. He arrived near the wave-whipped shores of Lake Erie on a recent morning to campaign door-to-door against Rep. Betty Sutton, a Democrat who voted for the House climate bill last year.
Bota, a 50-year-old technician for a wireless phone company, said the Democratic energy plan rekindles childhood memories: His father would scold him for turning up the heat. He doesn't want to be ordered around -- especially by "government agents" who would inspect his home to ascertain that he's "compliant" with a climate law.
"That the government could come in and say, 'You're using too much air conditioning, and we're going to shut it off,'" said Bota. "That's what they want to do."
Just downwind is an SUV whose license plate reads: LBRTEE. It belongs to Dave Zupan, a volunteer field organizer with FreedomWorks. He runs logistics here in Avon Lake, passing out clipboards with highlighted maps showing the addresses where volunteers should leave fliers and yard signs.
This town near Cleveland occupies a nub of land that bumps into Erie, and Zupan explains that he fishes area waters in his boat when the wavy lake "lays down." He supports taking care of nature. But climate change looks fishy to Zupan, who believes national politics have lurched so far left that President Kennedy would consider himself a libertarian if he were still alive.
"I think it's another scam," he said of global warming. "If cap and trade passes again, it's going to be a financial windfall for a lot of companies."
Two years after Ohio helped elect President Obama, more voters across the country consider themselves conservative. And they're less likely now to believe in climate change.
Tea party leads the doubters
In 2008, 50 percent of conservatives said the effects of global warming were already occurring. That number plummeted to 30 percent this year, according to a Gallup poll conducted in March. At the same time, 60 percent of moderate respondents said the effects are evident now, down 6 points. Liberals comprise the only growing category, up 2 points to 74 percent.
The numbers are lower among activists who associate themselves with the tea party. Just 12 percent of respondents believe climate change is having an impact now, while 15 percent say it doesn't exist, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of 881 tea partiers taken in April.
Fifty-one percent of those respondents believe global warming will have no serious impact. That number is half as large among respondents representing all Americans, or 24 percent during the same period.
Clymer, the Zanesville organizer, has her own ideas about politicians: You generally can't trust them.
Her focus until next week will be removing Rep. Zack Space from office. Space is a moderate Democrat who was first elected during his party's victory wave in 2006. He supported the House climate bill and other proposals that vex the tea party, including the stimulus spending program and the bank bailout. He voted against final passage of the controversial health care plan.
Clymer is disappointed by the outcome of the Republican primary that chose state Sen. Bob Gibbs to challenge Space. The race is considered close by analysts, and Gibbs, during an interview, dismissed global warming as a phenomenon caused by the sun. He also answered "hell, yes" when asked if he would aggressively fight upcoming U.S. EPA regulations on carbon emissions.
Still, Clymer wanted a candidate with purer conservative credentials.
"I think he's sharp enough to realize southeastern Ohio doesn't like [cap and trade]," Clymer said of Gibbs. "But what happens when he gets to Washington?"