Nevada tea partiers not coalescing behind a single candidate

When it comes to picking a Republican nominee for president, there is little consensus among tea partiers in Nevada, the next state to hold a nominating contest.

A poll commissioned by the Las Vegas Review-Journal and 8News Now found Newt Gingrich to be the favorite among strong tea party supporters. He was supported by 37 percent of that demographic, Mitt Romney by 27 percent, Rick Santorum by 20 percent and Ron Paul by 9 percent. But the picture on the ground is fairly fractured, according to the local tea party groups.

“The tea party people are scattered in whom they’re supporting,” said Jeri Taylor-Swade and Laurel Fee, editors of TRUNC, a group that works to build bridges between the tea party and the Republican Party.

“There’s a faction of the group that’s supporting Ron Paul, a faction of the group that’s supporting Sen. Santorum, and then there’s another faction of the group that are supporting Gingrich,” they said.

“Each of the tea party members is looking at somebody who’s conservative,” they added.

Mitt Romney is not on that list. Asked if anyone was getting behind Romney, the two TRUNC editors replied, “no, not that we know of.” In part, they said, because “he’s a moderate,” and, “we don’t need an Obama-lite.”

Another blow against him is how synonymous his candidacy has become with the so-called establishment in Nevada.

“All our elected officials here in Nevada have put on their elite hats and have decided who they think we should vote for,” they said. “They’re all standing behind Romney, and I think that hurts Romney with the tea party crowd because what the tea party is doing is trying to change government.”

But Bill Perine, founder and president of the Sienna Conservative Club, said that he was seeing a lot of people move toward Romney. The Sienna Conservative Club is not strictly a tea party group — it’s a conservative group of about 200 members located in an age-restricted community, meaning the crowd is on the older side. (RELATED: Full coverage of the tea party)

Perine said his group was “coalescing a little bit around Romney” — though he spoke somewhat tentatively, as he was heading to a group meeting later that evening where he planned to hold an informal straw poll.

“They like his electability. They like what he did in Utah for the Olympics — a lot of people, that’s the first thing they say to me,” he said, pointing out that in an older community, they’ve “been around… they remember the disaster that was the Utah Olympics.”

Perine is also seeing this among the strictly tea party folks that he knows.

“People that I went to the tea party events with out here — a lot of them are Gingrich, but a lot of them are Romney too, and they’re not looking for the non-Romney,” Perine said. “A lot of the tea party people that we were involved with two years ago and in the 2010 elections, a lot of those tea partiers are moving towards Romney — maybe not a majority, but it’s a significant number.”

“To read the press, you would think all the tea party, they’re looking for a non-Romney. And a lot of them are, but a lot of them very much support Romney,” he said.