Tea party flexes muscle in 2012 race

April 7, 2011


A mating dance is under way between the tea party and the likely 2012 Republican presidential candidates, with tea party organizers pushing the candidates and their aides to take hard-line positions on cutting the government and reducing taxes in return for possible support.

If the fractious movement comes close to reaching a consensus on a favored candidate it could help determine the identity and platform of the GOP nominee. But it’s also possible that disagreement over which candidate best represents the tea party’s small government ideals could splinter the movement further and show the tea party to be lacking the organizational heft or numbers to be a force in presidential politics.

“We’re doing them a favor by helping them reach an audience that is crucial to win, because I don’t think anybody can be elected without strong tea party support,” said Sal Russo, chief strategist for the Tea Party Express.

In recent weeks, Tea Party Express, a political action committee run by Russo’s Sacramento, Calif., consulting firm, has held private meetings to talk about its 2012 plans with a number of GOP presidential hopefuls including Haley Barbour, Gary Johnson and John Bolton, as well as top aides to two other likely candidates, Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

A similar meeting was scheduled for today between Newt Gingrich and Express officials, who have also been in regular contact with Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.

The intent, said Russo, is to meet with all the prospective GOP presidential candidates to explain “why it’s going to be beneficial to them” to participate in what Russo called a “presidential bus tour” the group is organizing this summer, which will focus on early primary states and culminate in a September debate it’s co-sponsoring with CNN, after which the Express plans to make a presidential endorsement.

Tea Party Express’s debate, along with the face time it – and other groups in the movement – have had this year with the prospective candidates highlights the rapid ascent of the tea party movement within the GOP. But it also underscores the potentially tricky path to the party’s nomination.

The tea party exploded onto the political landscape in 2009 in opposition to what its activists saw as an overreaching government expansion by President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress. But many tea partiers also made clear they had no love lost for Republicans either because of their perceived complicity in runaway spending, and they responded coolly to GOP efforts to absorb them into the party.

The tea party surge helped the GOP take back control of the House in the 2010 midterm elections. But it also was responsible for two disastrous Senate candidates, Sharron Angle of Nevada and Christine O’Donnell of Delaware, who won GOP nominations over more moderate candidates deemed more electable by establishment Republicans. And the amount of money tea party groups spent in the midterms (Tea Party Express, for example, spent $7.7 million) is not enough to make much of an impact in a presidential campaign.
TO read more, visit: http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0411/52629.html#ixzz1InkxmBqO


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