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Guide to Tea Party Influence in Early States

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Freshman Rep. Allen West could be the kingmaker for a candidate in the 2012 GOP presidential primary.

Republican presidential hopefuls are not facing an easy task as they attempt to woo tea party activists for 2012.

The early presidential primary states boast throngs of tea partyers, but each tea party faction is as diverse as the next. Here’s a look at which groups have influence in the states holding the earliest nominating caucuses and primaries — and the issues that top their agendas.

Florida

The large Sunshine State presents a challenge for candidates as they court the conservative activist groups.

Several Florida-based sources told Roll Call that tea party activism has dwindled since the 2010 elections, which saw major gains for the GOP. But groups in Pinellas County, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Punta Gorda and St. Augustine boast big tea party numbers and are aiming to sway voter sentiment in 2012, Republicans say. The South Florida Tea Party is the most active group, attracting thousands to rallies.

Freshman Sen. Marco Rubio (R) may be a favorite for Florida conservatives, but he said he won’t endorse a 2012 candidate before the primary. Look to freshman Rep. Allen West (R) instead as a potential kingmaker.

Iowa

In a movement that takes pride in being decentralized, tea party activists here have become inadvertent powerhouses.

With the Beltway group American Principles in Action, the Iowa Tea Party today begins a three-week bus tour featuring at least six heavy hitters in the GOP field: former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann and former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson.

“The candidates want to be able to have access to the tea parties, and we want to see how they reflect on the Constitution and the repeal of Obamacare,” said Ryan Rhodes, a leader of the Iowa Tea Party.

It’s an opportunity for candidates and activists to get to know each other, and the Iowa Tea Party gives the hopefuls a large audience — its email list tops 10,000 subscribers.

“I think Iowa has a great responsibility because, whether they like it or not, we get to be representative of other groups,” Rhodes said. “Iowa is a representation and a magnification of issues all across the country.”

Topping their list of concerns: jobs, gas prices and inflation.

The candidates are expected to take turns appearing on the 18-stop tour, which also includes training on being effective in the Iowa caucuses and lessons on the gold standard — a pet issue for American Principles in Action.

Judd Saul of the Cedar Valley Tea Party, located in an area that encompasses Waterloo, where the Iowa-born Bachmann plans to announce her White House bid, said tea partyers there are excited about the June 16 bus-tour stop in that region. Rumors abound that Bachmann will officially declare her candidacy that day.

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