By Michael O’Brien, The Hill
Three potential Republican contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination would have higher hurdles to clear to win the Tea Party vote in the primary, leaders of the movement say.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich each are met with a degree of suspicion by Tea Partiers, and all three have taken early steps to address those votersâ€™ concerns.
Tea Party groups, whose loosely organized members threw their sometimes considerable weight behind conservative challengers to centrist or establishment Republicans in the fall campaign, have already begun strategizing on ways to affect the race for the 2012 GOP nomination.
They are planning debates and candidate forums, organizing in key primary states, and even forming political action committees (PACs).
And Republicans â€” particularly those whose relationship with the grassroots activists isn’t the coziest â€” are mindful of the Tea Partyâ€™s potential impact, and seem to be operating with an eye toward that base.
When Romney announced his opposition to the tax-cut package President Obama negotiated with Senate Republicans this month, for instance, he aligned himself with other would-be conservative contenders for the nomination â€” former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and Rep. Mike Pence (Ind.) â€” who are looked upon with more favor by the Tea Party.
“I can’t say what was in his head, but it sure looks like an effort to reach out to the Tea Party movement,” Mark Meckler, the national coordinator of Tea Party Patriots, said of Romney’s effort.
“I don’t think anyone’s disqualified. I think the two that would have the longest row to hoe would be Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich,” Meckler added, anecdotally recalling conversations with many self-identified Tea Party voters.
Meckler said DeMint and Pence, by contrast, excite Tea Party voters much more.
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