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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.

“What the tea party is doing is filtering out the real people who pay attention to being fiscally conservative from the people just doing lip service,” Saul said.

Nevada

The California-based Tea Party Express chose to kick off its 2010 campaign in Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s hometown to send a signal that it wanted to put Silver State Democrats on notice. But it also wanted to irritate Republicans in Washington who had made it clear that party official Sue Lowden was their preferred GOP candidate to challenge Reid. The group’s support for Sharron Angle reshaped the primary race, and the tea party favorite upset Lowden in a crowded field.

There are at least 20 local tea party groups across Nevada with varying influence. Immigration has been a rallying issue.

It’s not yet clear how active Tea Party Express or the local groups will be in influencing the early 2012 Nevada caucuses.

New Hampshire

This state rocked the “Don’t Tread on Me” Gadsden flag before it became tea party chic. But the “Live Free or Die” motto trends more libertarian in New Hampshire than hard-right conservative.

The January election of a tea partyer and relative newcomer to politics to lead the New Hampshire GOP is evidence of the growing pull these activists have in the state. Jack Kimball narrowly won the chairmanship over establishment favorite Juliana Bergeron, and holding that post he’ll play a significant role in staging candidate forums, debates and must-attend events over the next eight months.

The local chapter of Americans for Prosperity has been among the most active groups, hosting a Tax Day tea party rally with several presidential hopefuls this spring. The Tea Party Patriots, one of the most active national groups that aims to sway legislative economic policies, has a noticeable presence in the state.

Cornerstone Action is also active in the Granite State, with a focus on social issues. The group has made repealing gay marriage a key element of its agenda.

Ovide Lamontagne, who narrowly lost a 2010 Senate primary bid, leads the Granite Oath political action committee. He’s become a must-visit tea partyer for 2012 candidates and will likely play a role in how activists view the hopefuls next year.

South Carolina

Social conservatives so far seem to be winning over the many active tea party groups in the Palmetto State.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) came in second in the influential Greenville Tea Party’s straw poll and won a major GOP straw poll in Greenville, the state’s largest county. Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) also has frequently appeared in the state.

Tea party groups in Myrtle Beach and Beaufort are among the most active, and the Charleston Tea Party hosts regular town halls for candidates at the state and local levels.

The Columbia Tea Party has hosted rallies with Gov. Nikki Haley, who won a tough primary battle last year thanks to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and tea party activists.

Some tea party activists want to see home-state Sen. Jim DeMint, one of the most conservative Republicans in the country, run for president. Should DeMint rule that out, his blessing would boost any GOP candidate. DeMint backed former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney in 2008.

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