Hoping to repeat his stellar performance in the South Carolina primary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is banking on support from the tea party to propel him to victory in Florida on Tuesday.
And tea party backing “absolutely” can ensure a Sunshine State primary win, Jose Mallea, Florida state director for the Gingrich campaign, declared in an exclusive interview with Newsmax.
“Every single one of these tea parties is incredibly organized. They have a lot of influence in the regions that they are in, so it’s not just the tea party members themselves who are going to vote for us,” said Mallea, noting that tea party support is just one part of a broad coalition of conservative support for Gingrich. “They’re also activists. And they are leaders in their own right in their individual communities.”
The Gingrich campaign boasts support from about 50 tea party organizers in Florida — each representing groups ranging from 500 to 5,000 people, said Kellen Giuda, national coalitions director for the campaign.
“We’re very confident that we’ll be able to turn out the tea party vote. We are in constant communication with our entire coalition, which ranges from 300 organizers around the country,” Giuda explained. “We have had aggressive outreach to the tea party community. We have had conference calls and meetings. We align very well with the core beliefs of the tea party and I think there’s just a general alignment of what Newt wants to do as president and what the tea party wants to see accomplished in D.C.”
Patricia Sullivan, who founded the Patriot Army and co-founded the North Lake Tea Party groups in Florida, told Newsmax that she is aware of several straw polls by Florida tea party groups that have chosen Gingrich, but she doesn’t know of any favoring any other GOP candidate.
Still, the tea party movement does not lend itself to singular endorsements, she said. “What’s interesting about the tea party movement is that it’s made up of many individuals who research, become informed and make a decision,” said Sullivan, who introduced Gingrich at a tea party rally on Thursday near Orlando. “It isn’t like a herd of sheep.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott was able to defeat Republican challenger Bill McCollum in his 2010 primary fight based largely on tea party support.
“That was a very interesting race because it was a newcomer,” said Giuda, who founded the New York City area’s tea party movement in 2009. “The tea party clearly sided with Rick Scott. But Rick Scott was also able to put together a great coalition of voters and I think we’re seeing that with our voters too.”
The tea party movement was also key to Gingrich's victory in South Carolina, based on exit poll data from that state. Among tea party supporters in South Carolina, Gingrich led former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney by 20 percentage points.
The Gingrich campaign tapped into a network of experienced activists left over from the 2010 midterm elections, when the tea party helped elect four new congressmen in the Palmetto State.
In the final days leading up to the South Carolina primary, tea party workers staffed phones and took to social media on behalf of Gingrich. Many of them previously had supported Rep. Michele Bachmann or Atlanta businessman Herman Cain, both of whom dropped out of the race before South Carolina. Saturday night, Cain delivered a resounding endorsement of Gingrich.
tea party rally in Mount Dora, Fla., hosted Gingrich on Thursday, drawing about 1,500 people, a number roughly equivalent to 15 percent of the town’s population.
Kellen said Gingrich helped launch the tea party movement in New York with an April 2009 appearance at one of his group’s early rallies that drew about 12,000 people.
“It was an epic event,” recalled Giuda. “Newt provided a lot of boost that we continued to grow from for the months following that after he came to our tea party. It really invigorated this whole grass roots movement around the five boroughs.”
Both Giuda and Mallea insist that Gingrich is the clear favorite of the tea party in Florida. “I have not seen one single source of tea party support for Romney,” Giuda said. “There may be . . . but I definitely have not seen any of it.”
Tea party voters simply do not view Romney as a consistent conservative, Guida said. “At the end of the day, they don’t just want to elect a Republican candidate. They want to elect the right Republican — the Republican who is going to go out there and not just beat Barack Obama but change the course of Washington, D.C., as a whole.”
Mallea, who helped get Marco Rubio elected to the Senate as his campaign manager, said Rubio’s election and the 2010 gubernatorial contest demonstrated the importance of winning tea party support in Florida.
“We saw it in the 2010 election cycle,” he said. “They are well organized. They are very motivated. And when they get behind you, you get armies of people out there. It’s really difficult to gauge until the results come in.”
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