DES MOINES, Iowa – Some leading Republicans are trying to entice a more established candidate to jump into the presidential race, a courtship that's aggravating tensions between tea partyers and the GOP's traditional business wing, a deep-pocketed source of financial support in the campaign.
Influential GOP donors have sought to coax Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to run. The goal is to find a contender with a strong record as a fiscal conservative and the political stature to challenge President Barack Obama.
The behind-the-scenes efforts have been taken as a snub by some tea party organizers who favor the anti-establishment messages of Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, businessman Herman Cain and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who are in the race or are considering it. New contenders could undermine their chances for donors and for success.
"It's extremely upsetting to hear that the establishment is courting their own candidate when Michele Bachmann, the gold standard, has been in the fight, bucking the establishment that got us in this mess," said Katrina Pierson, a Dallas tea party leader and emerging national figure for the movement.
Daniels, Bush and Christie are all connected with the GOP's organized fundraising bigwigs, not the more numerous but less affluent grass-roots conservatives, said Connecticut tea party leader Bob MacGuffie.
"We're trying to lead the big money with the small money, and they won't let it," said MacGuffie, who helped coordinate confrontational town hall meetings with members of Congress in 2009 about federal health care legislation.
The 2012 Republican field is wide open.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is considered the closest to a front-runner, but his support for his state's health care plan has alienated some conservatives. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty is not widely known.
The tea party movement, which advocates a much smaller government, was an energetic force in the 2010 elections. It has provided an audience for possible candidates such as Bachmann, a junior House member who has reveled in clashing with GOP elders.
Bachmann has generated enthusiastic responses from tea party activists in Iowa, where the GOP nominating caucuses are set to begin the 2012 run to the nomination. She said the search for a more traditional candidate could turn off some newly engaged conservative voters, whom the GOP needs to defeat Obama.
"I think people really want to know they are being heard, and when it appears that people's concerns are being bypassed, by looking at other candidates, they really do feel like they are being ignored," Bachmann said. "I understand that frustration."
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are trying to appeal to both tea party and establishment Republicans. Neither has made much visible headway in Iowa.
Joan Fabiano, a tea party leader in the Lansing, Mich., area, weighed in about Bachmann and the other more confrontational candidates. "The establishment believes they aren't controllable. And that's a big problem with us," she said.
Pawlenty promotes himself as outside the Washington establishment but with a record of winning in a politically divided state. He said the search by dissatisfied donors for better candidates could help endear him to anti-establishment conservatives.
"To the extent there is an attempt by the establishment to coronate somebody, I can easily see that frustrating and alienating activists across the board," Pawlenty said.
A group of Iowa Republican donors plans to meet with Christie in New Jersey later in May to try to persuade him to enter the race. The first-term governor, who has attracted national attention as an aggressive budget-cutter, has ruled out running. Daniels, formerly a former business executive and White House budget director, plans to announce his plans in the next few weeks. Bush has said he isn't considering a campaign.
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