Image: Tea Party supporter holds a sign that reads "Taxed enough already."
Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images
Tea Party supporters oftentimes get creative with their signs. Here, a woman at the Capitol on  Sept. 12, 2010 in Washington, DC with her sign.
By
updated 4/15/2011 11:43:38 AM ET 2011-04-15T15:43:38

It's a tricky time of courtship.

As the Tea Party turns two, the still-gelling field of Republican presidential contenders is the first class of White House hopefuls to try to figure out how to tap the movement's energy without alienating voters elsewhere on the political spectrum.

Look no further than this weekend's events marking the Tea Party's second anniversary to see how the candidates are employing different strategies. Some will be out front as the Tea Party stages tax day rallies across the country. Others, not so much.

Story: The 2012 GOP presidential field
  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Pawlenty, Palin, Bachman put on party hats
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an establishment Republican making a play for Tea Party support and clamoring to be heard over bigger names, is among those jumping in with both feet. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is being more coy.

First Thoughts: 2012 race is off and running

Pawlenty, for his part, planned to hold court at a gathering on Boston Common — in the city where colonists staged the 1773 Tea Party revolt against the British government — and in neighboring New Hampshire. And he's headed for Iowa a day later for similar appearances that are likely to include "Don't Tread on Me" banners and tirades against Washington spending.

Story: Pawlenty says 'I'm running'; campaign downplays it

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, perhaps the Republican most closely identified with the Tea Party, is slated to attend a weekend Tea Party rally at the Wisconsin Capitol, the site of recent protests over legislation that would strip union rights for most public workers.

Tea Party darling Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman, all but drafted into the race by Tea Partyers, plans to share the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse with another of the movement's favorite daughters, Gov. Nikki Haley.

And little-known businessman Herman Cain, who is hoping Tea Party backing can make him more than a longshot, plans to hit rallies in New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan and Texas.

Real estate magnate Donald Trump, who claims he's serious about running, picked a Tea Party rally in Boca Raton, Fla., to make his stand.

Other contenders are proceeding with more caution.

Barbour, Romney, Daniels less enthusiastic
Barbour plans weekend stops at county GOP conventions in Charleston, Columbia and Lexington, S.C. But he had no big tax day rallies on his schedule in a state where Tea Party activists have gained influence. As he weighs a presidential bid, Barbour has been more subtle than others in courting the movement. He talks about issues the Tea Party cares about, first and foremost the economy.

It's the same approach that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been taking. He talks about lower taxes and reduced government and was set to appear at a central Florida anti-tax event. He decries the Internal Revenue Service, a top target of Tea Partyers. And in his defense of the Massachusetts health care overhaul that he pushed through, he invokes the 10th Amendment that guarantees states' rights.

Story: Romney steps toward 2012 White House bid

In an opinion piece published Friday in the Orlando Sentinel, Romney praised the Tea Party-style activists: "The growth of government is not some inexorable force. In a democracy, we the people decide. Thanks to the Tea Party, there's real hope that we can rein in our profligate federal government."

But he spends the bulk of the column decrying President Barack Obama on policy, not invoking the Founding Fathers.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has followed a similar model. He had no public events scheduled for anti-tax rallies but has proved eager to criticize Washington spending.

Risks of Tea Party mantle
The tentativeness toward becoming a Tea Party candidate is understandable.

No candidate can afford to ignore these anti-establishment, anti-tax, conservative-libertarian rabble-rousers whose enthusiasm fired up the GOP base and helped Republicans win control of the House in November. But wrapping themselves in the Tea Party mantle carries risks for candidates.

They could get pushed too far to the right during the primaries if they embrace the Tea Party's conservative platform. There's also the potential stain of being linked to a group that Democratic critics have labeled extremist, if not racist.

Even so, the Republicans must compete in early primary states where Tea Party activists have made inroads in the GOP establishment and made clear that they intend to have a say in the presidential race.

"We want to find the best candidate and the best vehicle for us to reclaim our republic," says Jerry DeLemus, a Tea Party leader from Rochester, N.H. "The Republican Party is a vehicle that we can use to effect positive change."

Iowa's Tea Party leaders, meanwhile, have mapped out a strategy to engage supporters and road-test presidential candidates with hopes of influencing the leadoff nominating caucuses.

They are planning a bus tour through the state this summer, featuring at least four GOP presidential prospects, as well as a series of caucus training sessions.

New Hampshire's Tea Party activists made gains within the state's central GOP committee, and elected Jack Kimball as the state GOP chairman over the establishment's pick in January. And the Tea Party footprint in South Carolina also has expanded, with activists becoming more influential inside GOP county organizations.

'Keep beating the drum'
The Tea Party's birth can be traced to spring 2009, when libertarians and conservatives rose up in small towns and big cities alike to oppose Obama's policies, including the $787 billion economic stimulus measure, Wall Street bailouts and Obama's health care plan.

Some activists point to a CNBC anchor's televised tirade about taxes as the launching point. Others dispute that.

Whatever its origin, there's no doubt about the Tea Party's power.

"We've changed the political landscape in Washington and in statehouses across the country," says Amy Kremer, chairwoman of the Tea Party Express. "We have to keep going and keep beating the drum."

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Explainer: The 2012 GOP presidential field

  • A look at the Republican candidates hoping to challenge Barack Obama in the general election.

  • Rick Perry, announced Aug. 13

    Image: Perry
    Sean Gardner  /  REUTERS
    Texas Gov. Rick Perry

    Mere hours before a major GOP debate in Iowa (and a couple of days before the high-interest Ames straw poll), the Perry camp announced that the Texas governor was all-in for 2012.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas governor.

    While some on ground in the early-caucus state criticized the distraction, strategists applauded the move and said Perry was giving Romney a run for his money.

    Slideshow: A look at Gov. Rick Perry's political career

    He may face fierce opposition from secular groups and progressives who argue that his religious rhetoric violates the separation of church and state and that his belief that some groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, should be allowed to discriminate against gays is bigoted.

  • Jon Huntsman, announced June 21

    Image: Jon Hunt
    Mandel Ngan  /  AFP - Getty Images file
    Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman

    Huntsman, a former governor of Utah, made his bid official on June 21 at at Liberty State Park in New Jersey.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former governor of Utah.

    He vowed to provide "leadership that knows we need more than hope" and "leadership that doesn’t promise Washington has all the solutions to our problems."

    The early days of his campaign were clouded with reports of internal discord among senior staffers.

    Slideshow: Jon Huntsman Jr.

    Huntsman, who is Mormon, worked as a missionary in Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin. But his moderate credentials — backing civil unions for gays and the cap-and-trade energy legislation — could hurt him in a GOP primary. So could serving under Obama.

  • Michele Bachmann, announced on June 13

    Image: Michele Bachmann
    Larry Downing  /  REUTERS
    Rep. Michele Bachmann

    Born and raised in Iowa, this Tea Party favorite and Minnesota congresswoman announced during a June 13 GOP debate that she's officially in the running for the Republican nomination.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Minn. congresswoman.

    Bachmann tells The Associated Press she decided to jump into the 2012 race at this time because she believed it was "the right thing to do."

    She's been criticized for making some high-profile gaffes — among them, claiming taxpayers would be stuck with a $200 million per day tab for President Barack Obama's trip to India and identifying New Hampshire as the site of the Revolutionary War's opening shots.

    Slideshow: The political life of Michele Bachmann

    But Bachmann's proved a viable fundraiser, collecting more than $2 million in political contributions in the first 90 days of 2011 — slightly exceeding the $1.8 million Mitt Romney brought in via his PAC in the first quarter.

  • Rick Santorum, announced on June 6

    Image: Rick Santorum
    Charlie Neibergall  /  AP file
    Former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum

    A staunch cultural conservative vehemently against abortion and gay marriage, the former Pennsylvania senator hopes to energize Republicans with a keen focus on social issues.

    He announced the launch of a presidential exploratory committee on FOX News, where he makes regular appearances. He make his run official on June 6 in Somerset, Pa., asking supporters to "Join the fight!"

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Pennsylvania senator.

    No stranger to controversy, Santorum was condemned by a wide range of groups in 2003 for equating homosexuality with incest, pedophilia and bestiality. More recently, Santorum faced criticism when he called Obama’s support for abortion rights “almost remarkable for a black man.”

    Slideshow: Rick Santorum's political life

    Since his defeat by Democrat Robert Casey in his 2006 re-election contest — by a whopping 18 percentage points — Santorum has worked as an attorney and as a think-tank contributor.

    A February straw poll at CPAC had him in twelfth place amongst Republicans with 2 percent of the vote.

  • Mitt Romney, announced on June 2

    Image: Mitt Romney
    Paul Sancya  /  AP file
    Former Massachusetts Gov. and presidential candidate Mitt Romney

    The former Massachusetts governor and 2008 presidential candidate has spent the last three years laying the foundations for another run at the White House — building a vigorous political action committee, making regular media appearances, and penning a policy-heavy book.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former Mass. governor.

    In April, he announced, via YouTube and Twitter, that he'd formed an exploratory commitee. Romney made his run official in Stratham, N.H., on June 2.

    The former CEO of consulting firm Bain & Company and the president of the organizing committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Romney frequently highlights his business background as one of his main qualifications to serve as president.

    Slideshow: Mitt Romney's life in politics

    To capture the nomination, Romney will have to defend the health care overhaul he enacted during his governorship — legislation that bears similarities to the Obama-backed bill despised by many conservatives. He'll also have to overcome the perception of being a flip-flopper (like supporting abortion rights in his 1994 and 2002 bids for office, but opposing them in his '08 run).

    In the first quarter of 2011, he netted some $1.8 million through his PAC "Free and Strong America."

  • Herman Cain, announced on May 21

    Image: Herman Cain
    Brendan Smialowski  /  Getty Images file
    Talk show host Herman Cain

    Cain, an Atlanta radio host and former CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, has support from some Tea Party factions.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Atlanta radio host.

    An African-American who describes himself as a “citizen’s candidate,” he was the first Republican to form a formal presidential exploratory committee. He officially entered the race in May, telling supporters, "When we wake up and they declare the presidential results, and Herman Cain is in the White House, we'll all be able to say, free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, this nation is free at last, again!"

    Prior to the release of President Obama's long-form birth certificate, Cain rehashed the birther theory, telling a Florida blogger, “I respect people that believe he should prove his citizenship ... He should prove he was born in the United States of America.”

  • Ron Paul, announced on May 13

    Image: Ron Paul
    Cliff Owen  /  AP file
    Rep. Ron Paul

    In 2008, Texas congressman Ron Paul’s libertarian rallying cry — and his opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars — did not fall on deaf ears. An idiosyncratic foe of the Federal Reserve and a passionate advocate for limited government, Paul mounted a presidential run that was characterized by bursts of jaw-dropping online fundraising.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the Texas congressman.

    Slideshow: Ron Paul

    He officially launched his 2012 campaign in New Hampshire, saying, ""The revolution is spreading, and the momentum is building ... Our time has come."

    In the first quarter of 2011, raked in some $3 million through his various political organizations.

  • Newt Gingrich, announced on May 11

    Image: Newt Gingrich
    John M. Heller  /  Getty Images file
    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

    The former speaker of the House who led the 1994 “Republican Revolution,” Gingrich remains a robust presence on the GOP stage as a prolific writer and political thinker. In recent years, Barack Obama has provided a new target for the blistering critiques Gingrich famously leveled at President Bill Clinton.

    Click here to see a slideshow of the former speaker of the House.

    In early May, he made his 2012 run official. "I have been humbled by all the encouragement you have given me to run," Gingrich wrote on Facebook and Twitter.

    But a month later, the campaign was practically in ruins — with his campaign manager, spokesman, senior strategists all resigning en masse. Most cited issues with the "direction" of the campaign. But Gingrich vowed to press on.

    Slideshow: Newt Gingrich

    Also at issue: Gingrich’s personal life could make winning the support of social conservatives thorny for the twice-divorced former lawmaker. In a damning interview earlier this year, Esquire quoted one of Gingrich’s former wives describing him as a hypocrite who preached the sanctity of marriage while in the midst of conducting an illicit affair.

    Additional obstacles include his recent criticism of Rep. Paul Ryan’s fiscal plan as “right-wing social engineering" and reports of a $500,000 line of credit to Tiffany’s, the luxury jewelry company.

  • Gary Johnson, announced on April 21

    Image:Gary Johnson
    Jim Cole  /  AP
    Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson

    The former New Mexico governor took a big leap in late April, not by announcing an exploratory committee, but by actually announcing his official candidacy. “I’m running for president of the United States,” he told a couple of supporters and cameramen gathered for his announcement outside the New Hampshire State Capitol.

    He's a steadfast libertarian who supports the legalization of marijuana. He vetoed more than 700 pieces of legislation during his two terms as governor.

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments