* Many in movement not enthusiastic about Tampa gathering
* Attitude toward Romney remains cool
* Movement shows more interest in state-level races
By Samuel P. Jacobs
WASHINGTON, Aug 9 Since attorney Ted Cruz's
victory in the Texas Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat
last week, Tea Party members across the country have been
touting the strength of their conservative movement and its
influence on the Republican Party.
But don't expect much of a Tea Party celebration this month
in Tampa, Florida, where beginning August 27 Republicans will
hold their four-day national convention and formally recognize
Mitt Romney as the party's presidential nominee.
Despite the continuing prominence of the loosely organized
anti-tax, small-government movement that helped Republicans take
over the U.S. House of Representatives two years ago, Tea Party
activists and leaders say they are preparing for what amounts to
a snub in Tampa.
The Tea Party continues to be a force in congressional and
state elections, particularly in the South and Midwest. But
Republicans' pending nomination of Romney - whose conservative
credentials are questioned by many Tea Partiers - has led many
in the movement to shift their focus from the presidential race.
So when the nation's eyes are on Tampa this month, many Tea
Party activists say their attention will be elsewhere, at dozens
of state-level races where they say they can make a difference
without having to hold their noses.
Some Tea Party members see the convention as an exhibition
of the Republican Party at its back-scratching, favor-dealing
"The Tea Party is not about cool cocktail parties with
(Republican Party) chairmen," said Adam Brandon, executive vice
president of FreedomWorks, a Washington-based Tea Party group.
That the convention will seek to enhance Romney's
credibility makes matters worse for some Tea Partiers, whose
suspicions of the former Massachusetts governor revolve largely
around his signing a healthcare overhaul in his state that
became a model for the program that Democrat Barack Obama put
into place nationally as president.
"Obamacare," as it became known, requires most Americans to
buy health insurance, and is a policy that most Tea Partiers
view as a budget-busting violation of individual rights.
So even as Romney declared himself to be "severely
conservative" in front of a Tea Party-infused crowd in
Washington in February, Tea Party members spent most of the
presidential primary season backing Rick Santorum, a former U.S.
senator from Pennsylvania, and Newt Gingrich, former House of
Representatives speaker, as more conservative alternatives.
While they prefer him to Obama, many Tea Partiers will not
vote for Romney, said Judson Phillips, a Tea Party leader from
Nashville, Tennessee, who puts that figure as high as "one-third
to one-half" of Tea Party activists.
He warns that such people could vote for other conservatives
on their Nov. 6 ballots but skip Romney. "He's got a real
activist gap that he needs to make up."
LUKEWARM TOWARD ROMNEY
The Tea Party scored another win in a high-profile race on
Tuesday when one of its candidates, Missouri Congressman Todd
Akin, defeated two other Republicans for the right to face
Democratic Senator Claire in November.
Akin's victory, and Cruz's success in Texas, highlighted the
Tea Party's ability to influence statewide races - a success it
has not yet attained in a race for national office.
So in effect, Akin and Cruz have given some conservative
activists a reason to channel-surf when the Republican
convention is on TV this month.
Tea Party members say they will be investing most of their
energy on state and local races this fall, gravitating toward
Republicans such as Cruz, Akin, Indiana U.S. Senate candidate
Richard Mourdock, and Nebraska U.S. Senate candidate Deb
In recent days, Romney has tried to draw on some of these
candidates' insurgent appeal by appearing with Mourdock in
Evansville, Indiana, on Saturday and including Cruz in a
campaign telephone call for reporters on Tuesday.
But several Tea Party leaders say Romney can't easily trade
on their success.
"I'm not going to go out and try to help him," said Allen
Olson, a carpenter who is the founder of the Tea Party group in
Columbia, South Carolina.
Olsen said he and his fellow conservative activists have a
message for Romney and the Republican Party: "Listen. Or else."
Romney's supporters say his campaign is listening and is
honing a message that mirrors the Tea Party's concern for
limiting government spending and reducing deficits.
"They know that they need to get the Tea Party people," said
Gregg Keller, executive director of the American Conservative
The convention's roster of speakers will be one sign of how
seriously Republican leaders view the Tea Party.
If Romney does not pick a Tea Party hero such as Florida
Senator Marco Rubio or Kentucky Senator Rand Paul as his
vice-presidential nominee, their presence on the rostrum during
prime-time TV hours could help the presidential nominee.
So far, Cruz, Rand Paul and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
are the most prominent Tea Party favorites to be given speaking
slots, but it's not yet clear whether those speeches will be in
the evening hours of TV's coveted prime time.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, another Tea Party hero,
hasn't received a public invitation to appear at the convention.
At the same time, the Tea Party and Romney may be working at
cross purposes, as conservative activists try to tug the
Republican Party to the right while Romney strives to appeal to
voters in the middle needed to win a national election.
An ABC/Washington Post poll taken this spring indicated that
passionate supporters of the Tea Party were outnumbered by
strong opponents of the movement by 2 to 1.
A 'TEST' AT THE CONVENTION
Tea Partiers say their involvement with the Republican
convention will be largely outside the arena in Tampa.
Activists are staging a rally on August 26, before the
convention begins officially the next day. Among the scheduled
speakers are two Republicans who challenged Romney for the
Republican nomination, pizza magnate Herman Cain and
Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota
Tea Party leaders also plan to petition party leaders who
are responsible for drafting the party's platform, its statement
of positions for the fall elections.
FreedomWorks will present ideas such as auditing the Federal
Reserve and eliminating the Department of Education.
"That's going to be a test. We will see how well we will be
embraced or be told to pound salt," said Brandon, of
Members of the Republican platform committee say the panel
will be receptive.
"Everybody is going to be welcomed," said Representative
Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, who co-chairs the committee.
But some Tea Partiers aren't enthusiastic about influencing
the Republican platform.
"It's a piece of paper," said Olsen, a Tea Party leader in
Columbia, South Carolina. "It doesn't mean squat."