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As their Florida brethren vow to dump the Tea Party label for a  more-effective "brand" after Democrats  made gains in the 2012 elections, the leaders of grassroots conservatives in  California say their movement is strong and is being revived by the controversy  over gun control.

"When someone says the Tea Party's dead, I don't think so," said Sal  Russo, the Sacramento GOP political consultant who founded Tea  Party Express, a network that since it began in early 2009 has connected  millions of conservative activists, raised millions of dollars, and used its  clout to back once-unknown political figures such as Sarah  Palin.

"Of course, the brand has been hammered," Russo said this week. "But the  ideas haven't been hammered - and that's why they will always  come back."

Conservative pundits who have long been active in the Tea Party say that  while many people in the movement were disheartened by President Obama's  re-election, more of them have been re-energized by his announcement this week  of his plans to curb gun violence.

"This going after and trying to mess with the Second Amendment really angers  a lot of Tea Party members and folks who support them," said Brian  Sussman, a KSFO radio talk show host.

To drive home that point, Sussman and talk show host Melanie  Morgan - also a Tea Party favorite - have invited hundreds of people from  California to a "Save Our Second Amendment" rally at the City Arms gun store in  Pacifica on Saturday. It's one of several such gun-rights rallies being held  around the state that day, Sussman said.

Tea Party members, many of whom are libertarian-leaning, care about issues  such as taxes and less government intervention in their lives, Sussman said, and  "they're saying the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be  infringed. They take the Constitution very seriously."

Last year's losses

The rallies in California come as the Tea Party movement faces questions  about its potency in the wake of the November election, when Obama handily beat  Republican Mitt Romney, and Tea Party candidates lost to Democrats in states  including Indiana and Missouri.

This week, the South  Florida Tea Party said it is dropping the Tea Party label, saying it has a  "negative" brand.

In a recent analysis on the Fox & Hounds website, which examines California business and  politics, GOP strategist Tony  Quinn received sharp criticism from Tea Party members after he suggested  that the group, with its support of fringe candidates such as U.S.  Senate hopeful Todd  Akin of Missouri - who went down after he used the term "legitimate rape"  during his campaign - helped prevent the GOP from taking control of the Senate  in 2012.

Stances that angered women, Latinos, independents and youth voters, Quinn  said, contributed to the movement's losses. This week, an NBC/Wall  Street Journal national poll found the Tea Party's popularity at its lowest  ever, with 47 percent of respondents giving it an unfavorable rating, while 23  percent gave it a favorable mark.

Tea Party vs. GOP

But California Tea Party leader Russo said that despite Romney's loss, the  Tea Party "again exhibited electoral strength while the GOP establishment  stumbled." He pointed to 27 new Tea Party conservatives in the House and three  new Tea Party conservatives in the Senate.

"Despite the wishful thinking of liberal Democrats and many in the Republican  establishment, the Tea Party is stronger than ever in Congress,"  Russo said.

Sally Zelikovsky of San Rafael, founder of the Tea Party group known as the Bay  Area Patriots, scoffed at the idea that the movement is dead - and is even  more passionate about the suggestion that the name should be dropped.

"Heck, no," she said. "Democrats did a really good job of misbranding us as  the extreme-radical, homophobic, racist group."

But efforts such as the one in Florida to rebrand the movement are  "misdirected energy," she said. "You don't see Occupy  Wall Street changing their name because of some people being called  tree huggers."

Carla  Marinucci is The San Francisco Chronicle's senior political writer. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.@cmarinucci

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