Nevada tea partiers not coalescing behind a single candidate

Alexis Levinson Political Reporter
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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.

In the Las Vegas Tea Party, one of the local groups, there’s a split, said Penny Hess, the group’s vice president.

“I know somebody that’s involved in each and every one of the campaigns,” she told The Daily Caller. “However, I’ve kind of seen more Ron Paul people; I know more Ron Paul people personally.”

“There are a whole bunch of people within probably the past three weeks or so that have swung over to Newt Gingrich,” she went on. “I think there’s still a pretty heavy anti-Mitt sentiment, although he seems to be picking up some steam. I think once the media continues to report that he’s the frontrunner, he’s probably going be the guy — I think it just draws a lot of people in… you don’t want to back anyone who’s not a winner.”

In the Las Vegas Valley Tea Party, another tea party group in the area, the membership is similarly divided in whom they support.

“It’s mixed,” said one member of the group, “but a lot of people are leaning toward Newt, while others want that business background that Mitt Romney has. I don’t think as many of our group are leaning toward Rick Santorum, and I don’t know why,” the person said, adding that it may have to do with the fact that is he is not perceived to be very electable.

Vicki Dooling, communications director for the group, said that the split could be explained by the fact that “when we did a straw poll about four months ago, Herman Cain was the winner, and he won by a huge amount — nobody even close.”

Moreover, she added, “our group is made up of independents, Republicans, and some Democrats,” so the priorities of members differ widely.

Dooling herself declined to state the exact breakdown of support she was seeing within the party, citing the group’s 501(c)4 status that prevented it from endorsing any candidate. (RELATED: Full coverage of the 2012 elections)

“There are hardcore conservatives for all of these candidates,” said Bettye Gilmour, a conservative activist who has been very active through the Clarke County Republican Party. “We are not united at all.”

Gilmour said she knew people “both for and against Romney,” and though personally, she said, she did not like him because “he is not a conservative,” she said she knew that “a lot of people who I would consider to be very conservative like him.”

The one thing all the tea party and conservative activists could agree on was that they would support whoever came out of the primary process in his bid against Obama.

“The general consensus is ‘get Obama out,’ and whoever can beat him is who everybody’s going to go behind,” said Dooling, a phrase that the other tea partiers echoed.

“As I’ve heard it put,” she said, “last man standing who has a bloody nose and is the winner” is the one everyone will support.

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