CONCORD, N.H. — It was billed as the tea party's largest collection of GOP presidential contenders to date, but the grass-roots movement's leading voice in Congress was hundreds of miles away from the New Hampshire Statehouse on Friday afternoon.
While four presidential contenders attended the Granite State's Tax Day tea party rally, Rep. Michele Bachmann was focused instead on the second-in-the-nation primary state of South Carolina. But the Minnesota Republican was a topic of conversation in New Hampshire, where a leading conservative voice suggested the founder of the House Tea Party Caucus may have trouble winning over local grass-roots activists.
"She's well-known, I think, and respected, and so she becomes at least an important voice nationally and here in New Hampshire," said Ovide Lamontagne, a former Senate candidate and leader of the Granite Oath political action committee. "I think she'll help to drive a conservative agenda here for sure." But while "she certainly resonates with a lot of the activists," Lamontagne thinks viability is a concern.
"Even if you're the most lovable conservative in the field, if you don't show the people at the grass-roots level that you can put together a national team and win in November of 2012, you're going to have a hard time winning the New Hampshire primary," he told Roll Call. "This is not going to be a primary about making a statement or testing someone's purity. This is not about purity. This is about the most conservative candidate who can win."
Perhaps that's why Lamontagne said New Hampshire's grass-roots activists have been slow to rally around a single candidate. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty continued to try to fill that role, as perhaps the most high-profile GOP presidential hopeful to speak at Friday's Statehouse rally, hosted by Americans for Prosperity of New Hampshire. Also appearing were former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former pizza magnate Herman Cain and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.
"I am surprised when I talk to folks that are involved in the conservative movement. I'm not hearing any one candidate taking hold yet," said Lamontagne, who was the opening speaker at the rally. "And I'm not hearing that people are committing to what I would call lesser candidates — they're waiting."