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Tea Party Uncertain on 2012

Mark Wilson/Getty Images
When choosing among the Republican presidential candidates for 2012, tea partyers may ultimately opt for the candidate who seems most likely to win.

But the griping about Romney hasn’t translated into much action. If FreedomWorks were to use the $20 million it aims to raise through its new Super PAC on a major anti-Romney campaign, that could prove detrimental to the frontrunner’s campaign. Its nonprofit and advocacy arms raised $13.5 million combined in 2010, according to documents filed with the IRS. That pales in comparison to the $240 million Karl Rove’s American Crossroads has pledged to raise and spend against Obama and in favor of the ultimate GOP nominee.

Some tea party leaders are growing increasingly wary of Romney-bashing.

“I don’t know that there is some universal stop-Romney effort,” said Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity. “I just don’t see that and I know AFP would not be part of something like that.”

Mark Meckler, executive director of the Tea Party Patriots, refuses to weigh in on the race. That’s one reason longtime political observers believe that the new breed of conservatives will never coalesce around anyone in particular.

Romney’s campaign, stacked with veterans of his unsuccessful 2008 White House bid, is taking comfort in this model.

“Look, these races are very fluid, and one thing to keep in mind despite all of the movement, Gov. Romney’s maintained a very solid block of support,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams told Roll Call. He described Romney’s platform as one that “appeals to members of the tea party, Republican stalwarts and others who are disillusioned with Obama.”

Perry supporters note that Romney never seems to be able to get much over 30 percent.

The campaign doesn’t seem too concerned about the threat of candidates like Cain who brandish tea party credentials. The former Godfather’s Pizza CEO wrote an email to tea party supporters declaring himself “the clear frontrunner.” Bachmann on Friday trumpeted an endorsement from the editor of a prominent tea party blog.

The Romney campaign seems to have no plan to extend its reach into those circles. Romney was scheduled to file his official candidacy papers in New Hampshire today before heading to Washington for two fundraisers, one in the Virginia home of an ex-George W. Bush aide and a second with his top Congressional backers at the downtown headquarters of the American Trucking Associations.

Many key Washington insiders, mostly bundlers, have not committed to a candidate, perhaps because they are waiting to see which candidate proves able to unite tea party rhetoric and mainstream Republicans.

Sources on the ground in some of the early states said local conservative leaders, the people who rally voters to go to the polls, are also still not sure about what to do. Phillips said it’s a strange phenomenon: “I’ve never seen a nomination this fluid at the grass roots, people being genuinely undecided.”

People in Washington are baffled, too.

“Depending on the week, there is a favorite,” said a Washington insider supporting Perry. “The question is, can anyone pull those people together?”

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