Tea Party still hunting for its champion

By Michael Levenson & Matt Viser – Tea Party activists have time, energy, and a ready-made volunteer army to devote to the presidential campaign. Now, if they could only find a candidate.

Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and, more recently, Herman Cain have captured the hearts of Tea Party activists and religious conservatives, but none has so far been able to consolidate and sustain that backing. Their see-sawing support has some in the movement beginning to worry that Mitt Romney – the favorite of many in the GOP establishment, but a candidate the Tea Party has kept at arm’s length – will capture the nomination.

“That absolutely creates, for leadership in the Tea Party movement, strategic problems,’’ said Joe Miller, a former US Senate candidate from Alaska who now leads a group, Western Representation PAC, whose stated goal is defeating Romney. “We’re not seeing anything other than a fracturing right now of the vote.’’

This was supposed to be the Tea Party’s year to rock the Republican primary. After helping Republicans capture the majority in the US House in the 2010 mid-term elections,Tea Party activists were expected to play a pivotal role in helping to select the party’s presidential nominee.

And they have plenty of candidates to choose from: Bachmann started the congressional Tea Party Caucus. Cain has been speaking at Tea Party rallies since 2009. Ron Paul has been called the “grandfather of the Tea Party.’’ And Perry wrote “Fed Up!’’ an anti-Washington, Tea Party manifesto.

Yet Romney, a candidate many in the movement view as too timid and too moderate, has consistently stayed near the front of the pack, buoyed by a well-funded campaign, major endorsements, smooth debate performances, and a sense of inevitability surrounding his second run for the nomination.

Tea Party activists and religious conservatives, however, contend a crucial factor plays in their favor: Romney cannot seem to tally more than 20-25 percent support in national polls, meaning almost 80 percent of the vote is still in play. As the field inevitably narrows, they say, their potent forces will unite behind one alternative to the former Massachusetts governor.

Follow Joe Miller at Twitter HERE and Facebook HERE.

Read more at Boston.com HERE.