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Tea Party’s Presence Muted in Presidential Campaign

By    |   Monday, 09 January 2012 11:20 AM

After the tea party played a pivotal role in the huge Republican election success of 2010, many politicos thought it would do so again in this year's presidential election. But so far that hasn’t been the case, even in New Hampshire, the state whose slogan is “Live Free or Die,” Politico reports.

This lack of influence stems largely from the young age of the tea party movement and its local orientation.

“The tea party has not been around long enough to have a real impact on presidential politics, because it hasn’t developed the mechanism to reach national agreements to back a candidate,” Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a group that trains local activists in political organizing, told Politico.

The movement’s “highly individualistic, decentralized” style works better for local, state and congressional campaigns, he said. “It’s like herding cats. It just doesn’t move cohesively as one unit yet, and who knows if it ever will, maybe by 2016.”

Part of the problem also may be the tea party’s substance. It’s not as popular with the American public as it was in 2010. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 27 percent of Americans disagree with the tea party, compared to 20 percent who agree. That represented a reversal from a year earlier, when 27 percent of respondents agreed with the tea party and 22 percent disagreed.

Tea party support may even be slipping among its base. Iowa caucus entrance polls showed that more voters consider themselves very conservative -- 47 percent -- than strongly supportive of the tea party -- 34 percent.

Among strong tea party backers, 30 percent supported former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, 17 percent preferred former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and 16 percent opted for Texas Rep. Ron Paul. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry tied at 14 percent, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann placed last with 9 percent.

Tea partyers acknowledge that their hopes may have been overblown for the presidential race. Many in the movement were upset when the campaigns of their favorites – Cain, Bachmann, and Perry – blew up.

Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, which played a major role in some of the movement’s biggest rallies and 2010 election victories, told Politico the presidential race represents an “Achilles heel” for the movement, which has shied away from formal structures of leaders.

“Michele Bachmann was good on a lot of our issues, but she obviously didn’t have the ability to build a national organization, and tea partyers are looking for a combination of values and practical campaign know-how that allows us to win elections,” he said.

“It’s pretty clear that tea partyers haven’t found their champion in this race. Gingrich was speaking the tea party’s language, and then when he started to rise to the top, tea partyers looked at his record and discovered the whole range of issues that he disagrees with the tea party on. And I think that’s probably about to happen with Rick Santorum.”

For example, a 2011 video clip that is making the rounds among tea partyers shows the former Pennsylvania senator saying he has “some real concerns about” the movement’s influence and “will vocally and publicly oppose it and do my best to correct for it.”

Kibbe said, “People are pretty quickly finding out that Rick Santorum is not terribly simpatico with tea party values, either.”

But some tea partyers have been willing to throw their support to Santorum and Gingrich. “They’re kind of left with none-of-above, or one of the lesser candidates, and some of them now are willing to compromise their core,” Erick Erickson, founder of conservative blog RedState, told Politico.

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Monday, 09 January 2012 11:20 AM
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