Mitt Romney keeps distance from tea party groups

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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Mitt Romney says he’s on the same page as tea party activists, but some national organizations affiliated with the movement say the GOP presidential candidate hasn’t made much of an effort to get to know them.

In fact, these tea party organizers say they can’t recall the former Massachusetts governor ever speaking at a tea party gathering, unlike nearly all of his primary opponents.

“To my knowledge, Mitt Romney has never requested to participate in one of our tea party events or rallies,” said Jacqueline Bodnar, a spokeswoman at FreedomWorks, the Washington, D.C.-based organization led by former House leader Dick Armey. The group helped organize events like the 9/12 March on Washington in 2009 and annual “tax day” rallies.

Bodnar said there has been very little contact between FreedomWorks and Romney. The group’s president, Matt Kibbe, briefly met with Romney during the 2010 election season, she said.

Another national figure in the movement, Mark Meckler, a national coordinator for the Tea Party Patriots, also said Romney “certainly never reached out to our organization, not that I’m aware of.”

“I’m not aware of him speaking at any tea party events,” Meckler said. “I couldn’t say conclusively he hasn’t, but not that I’ve ever seen.” (ALSO ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL: Ron Paul blasts FEMA and the dependency it has created)

Meckler, whose Tea Party Patriots is an umbrella organization for thousands of local groups, suggested Romney missed a great opportunity, especially during the health care battle, to come before tea partiers and argue against the bill.

“I think he was probably the perfect guy to make the argument,” Meckler said. Romney, he said, could have talked about how he knows from personal experience that the policies in the health care bill would be a mistake. Romney famously oversaw a state health care law in Massachusetts similar to the one pushed by Obama.

Likewise, a source at Tea Party Express, who has taken several bus tours across the country holding rallies, said Romney hasn’t been involved in any of that group’s events.

“In the past, we have never had participation from Mitt Romney, and I don’t know that he has ever reached out to us until more recently,” the source said.

Yet Sal Russo, another strategist involved with Tea Party Express, stressed that the group is on good terms with the presidential candidate, who has confirmed his attendance at the upcoming CNN/Tea Party Express debate. “We have a good relationship not only with Romney, but with his campaign,” he said.

Other Republican candidates for president — former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (who has since dropped out of the race), Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, businessman Herman Cain, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Texas Gov. Rick Perry — have all spoken at tea party events. (RELATED: KISS rocker: Condi and Perry equal winning presidential ticket)

Romney’s campaign did not comment when reached by The Daily Caller, but the former governor continues to make the point while on the trail that he fits in well with the conservative grassroots activists.

“I think I line up pretty well with the tea party,” Romney told TheDC in June while stumping in New Hampshire. “They want to see smaller government. So do I.”

Asked recently if he considers himself a tea partier, Romney said, “I don’t know that you sign a membership. What I consider myself is someone who is in sync with the tea party.”

And in a story published Friday about an editorial board meeting with a New Hampshire newspaper, Romney said: “I want to appeal to the tea party voters.”

“I showed the kind of fiscal conservatism in my leadership I think tea partiers appreciate,” he said. “I also think the tea partiers are more inclined to vote for someone who hasn’t been a lifelong politician.”

But people like FreedomWorks’ Bodnar don’t buy it.

“Saying he is ‘in sync’ with the tea party movement is a huge stretch, especially considering his open support for government-run health care in Massachusetts and his wishy-washy views on cap and trade,” Bodnar said. “You can’t support those positions and then call yourself an advocate of limited-government in the same breath.”

While he may not have taken part in specific tea party rallies with these groups, Romney has participated in events put on by other organizations associated with the movement. Tim Phillips, who leads the free-market group Americans for Prosperity, said Romney has participated in functions they organized.

“I know he’s participated in a fair number of AFP events over the years, going back to when he ran the first time in 2008,” Phillips said.

Phillips also said Romney’s positions reflect the views of many tea partiers, pointing to Romney’s stance during the debt ceiling debate.

“He supported Cut, Cap and Balance. He came out pretty aggressively for that,” Phillips said. “That’s certainly in sync with a lot of the tea party movement.”

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