Throughout this presidential campaign, there has been a lot of talk about the influence the Tea Party would have on the race. But in the end, it looks like the liberty movement may wind up having little to no impact on who winds up winning the New Hampshire Primary.
Some individual Tea Party leaders have endorsed. But for the most part, members of the movement have stayed out of the fray.
“It would be nice if we could get behind one person who we believed could be a viable, honest candidate with integrity who doesn’t flip flop and wasn’t making money off Freddie and Fannie when every conservative knew they were going to crash,” said Jane Aitken, spokeswoman for the New Hampshire Tea Party Coalition, the umbrella organization for the state’s 50-plus liberty groups. “But we just probably can’t.”
“What we decided is it’s too early for us to reach a decision now,” said Diane Bitter, vice chairwoman of the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC. “There is no one candidate that jumps up and says ‘This is it.’”
Instead, the various Tea Party members in the state are left trying to decide between backing a candidate who they believe in but has no chance of winning, or someone who doesn’t necessarily embody the values they hold dear but at least stands a chance of beating Barack Obama.
Nationally, Tea Party organizers are having the same problem. So far, it’s been difficult to find one candidate with universal support in the liberty movement.
Dante Scala, a University of New Hampshire political science professor, said he isn’t surprised that the various Tea Party groups haven’t been able to settle on one candidate.
“I think the odds were against it,” he said. “The Tea Party in New Hampshire is hardly a top down organization, so there’s no sense in which there’s a few party leaders who give direction and everyone else falls into line. That’s not the nature of it. It’s really a loosely organized coalition of groups which don’t always have a lot in common with one another.
“There’s just not much evidence to say that the Tea Party has the capability to unite,” he added. “Especially with this field, there are so many different flavors of conservative, anti-establishment candidates with very little distinction between one another that it’s going to be hard to unite behind one.”
But Aitken doesn’t see the New Hampshire Tea Party’s failure to rally around a single candidate as a major concern. She said the liberty movement isn’t about endorsing candidates, it’s about issues.
That’s why she was so upset when Christine O’Donnell endorsed Mitt Romney last week.
"Christine O'Donnell is wrong to endorse someone. Real #TeaPartys DO NOT ENDORSE,” Aitken wrote in a tweet sent after O’Donnell announced her endorsement.
After all, Aitken said, the Tea Party was started based on issues, not endorsing a particular candidate.
“The 9-12 groups, when they formed, Glenn Beck specified it wasn’t about campaigning,” she said. “How do you know everybody in your group likes that person? People are not happy to be told they have to vote for someone who can win. They don’t want the lesser of two evils."
Especially in a year like this one, when Aitken said few of the candidates have done a good very job of living up to Tea Party ideals.
“You cannot tell them what do to,” Aitken said. “That’s why we don’t endorse. We don’t speak for every person in the Tea Party.”
The Tea Party endorsements that have been made in New Hampshire so far have all been personal ones, and not on behalf of the groups they are part of.
Jerry DeLemus, chairman of the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC, recently backed Michele Bachmann. Former state GOP Chairman Jack Kimball backed Herman Cain, and then Newt Gingrich when Cain dropped out. Tom Thomson went with Romney. Jennifer Horn, founder of the We The People group, was with Tim Pawlenty before he dropped out, and is expected to announce that she's endorsing Romney later today.
“They made it clear it was a personal endorsement,” Aitken said.
Bitter said many of the rumors about the Tea Party’s divided nature isn’t factual, as the New Hampshire groups are all “really respectful to one another” and there is “no friction and no separation.”
She said there are differing schools of thought when it comes to the various candidates, although she said Tea Party leaders recently decided that coalescing behind one candidate “is not going to happen” — at least not yet.
“We really found it was premature to make any final statements at this point,” Bitter said. “Let’s give it a little time.”
Granite State Tea Party groups are making efforts, though, to try and help Tea Party members choose their preferred candidate. One such effort is through a lengthy matrix that breaks down all of the Republican candidates’ stances on roughly 60 different issues.
Bitter said the document is being circulated throughout the state with the hope that it will be a “very valuable tool” come the various primaries and caucuses in 2012.
“We’re sharing it with all Tea Party members as a way of saying, ‘We want you to make up your mind as to which candidate works for you,’” she said. “We want them to look at it and come up with their own answer, and not wait for the Tea Party leaders to tell them (who to support).”