Tea Party groups differ on endorsing in presidential race

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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The best-known national organizations affiliated with the Tea Party movement differ on whether they will endorse a candidate to run against President Barack Obama in 2012.

“We don’t endorse candidates for office,” Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, said in an interview.

Instead, Phillips said, Americans for Prosperity, a 501(c)(4) organization closely aligned with the conservative grassroots, will focus on education efforts to remind people about Obama’s stances on issues that it cares about.

“We’ll look at his record on economic issues and frankly it’s been just a disaster,” Phillips said. “And so I suspect we’ll do a mixture of TV, radio, new media and then rallies and events to lay that record out for people.”

On the other hand, the Tea Party Express, a California-based political action committee, plans to get very involved in the Republican presidential nominating process. It is sponsoring a Tea Party presidential debate with CNN in September.

Levi Russell, a spokesman for the group, said he anticipates an endorsement from Tea Party Express in the Republican race could come after that debate.

“Our hope is that a clear winner will emerge through the upcoming debate, and that the Tea Party movement will begin to coalesce behind that candidate and help bring them a victory,” Russell said.

“In that sense, the performance of candidates at the Tea Party debate could be pivotal in winning support from the movement, and from Tea Party Express.”

Another group that has played a pivotal role in organizing Tea Party activists is the Washington D.C.-based group FreedomWorks, chaired by former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey.

They have already made it clear they are opposed to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, but have not signaled that they are behind any of the other candidates yet. Will the organization — that really got involved in GOP congressional primaries in 2010 — endorse someone?

“Eventually,” said spokesman Adam Brandon, “but we are focusing on the Senate right now.”

The national coordinators for the Tea Party Patriots, an umbrella organization for more than 3,500 local groups, told TheDC not to expect it to get involved in the Republican primary.

One leader, Jenny Beth Martin, said that while the group established a PAC, it has never been funded and it only registered it to hold the name. The group is sensitive not to make endorsements that reflect on all the local groups affiliated with Tea Party Patriots.

“At this time our membership has asked us not to make endorsements,” said Mark Meckler, another national coordinator.

* This article was corrected to indicate that 3,500 independent groups are affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots, not 1,000 as we originally reported.