CONCORD, N.H. – If Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney came in search of elusive Tea Party mojo, he didn’t find it here at a small Tea Party Express rally, where a few dozen conservatives sat in lawn chairs and argued about Romney’s conservative bona fides.
Romney made no attempt to out-Tea Party his conservative rival Rick Perry, and in fact the words “Tea Party” didn’t cross his lips in a stump speech that ran less than 15 minutes.
“I thought he’d pander a bit more,” remarked Jerry DeLemus, a local Tea Party leader who’d appeared before the event at an anti-Romney event organized by the Washington group FreedomWorks—a group that split with the Tea Party Express over Romney’s appearance.
Romney instead reminded the attendees at the Concord party that he’s “a business guy” and a “turnaround” specialist. He drew applause for a jab at “Obamacare” and told the crowd, “I believe in free enterprise.”
The event’s attendees were evenly divided between Romney’s supporters in blue shirts, Tea Party loyalists, and reporters, and Romney’s supporters clustered together by the entrance, sparring only occasionally with the anti-Romney contingent who brought their own signs and slogans.
“We thought all the nuts were down in Massachusetts but now we know they’re here too,” one told DeLemus’s wife, Susan, a New Hampshire state representative, she said.
One speaker, the leader of the New Hampshire chapter of the conservative group Americans for Prosperity, Corey Lewandowski, offered a challenge for Sarah Palin, who will speak to the group tomorrow.
“It is time to determine: Are you here to sell books, are you here to run for president of the United States?” he said. “If you’re not serious, get out of the way.
Romney’s supporters couldn’t have been more out of place at an event festooned with the characters like former Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle and the blunt symbols of the Tea Party movement—images of one stick figure shooting another under the heading “socialism” and of an automatic weapon with the legend, “Come and Get It.”
Romney’s supporters hailed from a different Republican Party, said Bill Gordon, a retired software engineer from Lowden, who dressed his poodle in a blue Romney shirt.
“I want somebody’s who’s in the center who can pull people together from both sides,” he said. “We’ll tear this country apart if we swing all the way the other way – we already swung all the way left.”
The event reflected some tension inside the Tea Party movement, with the Tea Party Express – a PAC organized by a California GOP consultant – taking heat from other local groups over the decision to allow Romney to speak to the group.
“He’s alright,” said Tom Homer, a retired postal worker and Tea Party member who was among the few who hadn’t come to the rally with fixed views on Romney. “But yet, he’s Establishment.”
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