Indeed, Pawlenty is among at least six presidential hopefuls to participate in an Iowa Tea Party bus tour beginning this week. (For more information, see the sidebar.) Romney, who has done little campaigning in Iowa so far and who will skip the crucial Ames straw poll this summer, is noticeably absent from the bus tour’s roster.
The Romney campaign declined to comment on tea party criticism but cited a March Pew Research Center poll showing that he enjoys broad support from rank-and-file tea party members, if not their outspoken leaders.
Specifically, Romney was the choice of one in four respondents who are tea party supporters. That put him atop the potential GOP field at that time, which included Huckabee, who has since dropped out of the race, libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Rep. Allen West, who dismisses tea party calls for him to run for president, suggested that it would be months before the movement coalesces around a favorite.
“By September or October, maybe we’ll have a sense,” the Florida Republican said, noting that the field is still being shaped.
While the tea party may seem disjointed and less enthusiastic than it was last fall, West said it would play a major role in the presidential contest.
“They’re still very much engaged,” he said. “It’s kind of like ‘The Blob.’ Remember that old Steve McQueen movie? It kind of pops up, then it goes away. Then it comes back again.”
Either way, West said, the candidates “are going to have to present themselves. They can’t run away from the movement.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., carries a musket on stage as he speaks during the American Conservative Union's Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Md., on Thursday March 6, 2014.