Tea party activists coalescing behind Newt in South Carolina

Alex Pappas Political Reporter
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CHARLESTON, S.C. — Have the tea partiers found their man to challenge President Obama?

The leader of South Carolina’s chapter of the Tea Party Patriots says they have — and it’s Newt Gingrich.

In an interview on Wednesday with The Daily Caller, Joe Dugan, who is also the chairman of the local Myrtle Beach Tea Party, said he sees increasing signs that conservative activists in the Palmetto State are beginning to coalesce around the former Speaker of the House.

“My sense is there is a growing coalition behind Newt Gingrich,” said Dugan, who organized a state tea party convention last weekend that both Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum attended.

Dugan personally supports Gingrich and said the board of the Myrtle Beach Tea Party has endorsed the former House speaker’s campaign.

He also made it clear that the tea partiers he knows are not fans of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is leading in many polls here ahead of Saturday’s primary.

“We don’t want somebody who is a moderate,” Dugan said, “that will try to compromise with Democrats to perpetuate the crises that we are encountering in this country.”

But no one candidate throughout the Republican primary has been able to consolidate the support of the tea party movement. National polls show that there is no clear “tea party” candidate — a recent CBS News/New York Times poll shows Romney and Gingrich essentially tied when it comes to tea party support nationally.

But if that is changing, it was symbolized Tuesday night when former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said on Fox News that if she was voting in the South Carolina primary, she would support Gingrich.

On Wednesday, a leader with the Tea Party Express organization told TheDC that Gingrich seems to have the most buzz among tea party activists heading into South Carolina’s primary. But he said there still isn’t a tea party consensus candidate.

“We poll continuously to monitor our people, and they have bounced from candidate to candidate as the national polls have shown as well,” strategist Sal Russo told TheDC. “Each of the major candidates has taken the lead in our poll for a period of time. Right now it is a pretty close race with our people. Gingrich leads, followed by Romney, Paul and Santorum.”

Russo said, “We had thought there would be a developing tea party consensus after our September debate and tour, but obviously that has not happened.”

Tea Party Express chairwoman Amy Kremer recently said the organization would endorse ahead of Saturday’s primary, but Russo told TheDC on Wednesday that “our goal is still to endorse if a consensus begins to develop, but we haven’t seen it… yet.”

Russo said it’s possible they “will just be supportive of all of the candidates and keep our focus on the Senate and House for the time being.”

“The gratifying thing for us is that all of the remaining candidates have appealed to tea party voters and each of them has significant support,” he said. “So I consider it a victory if we have multiple acceptable candidates.”

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