In 2010, the Florida Tea Party hit the pavement working to help get candidates like Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio elected. The same could be said about several Republican candidates across the country.
Newt Gingrich has managed to sway some in Florida's Tea Party, but no candidate has ignited zeal in the group. And with that lack of excitement, many wonder if the Tea Party's absence from the active campaign will hurt the candidate who becomes the Republican nominee - especially if the winner is among their less desirable of choices.
Westchase Patch sat down with Bob White, a 54-year-old Westchase resident and active member of the Tea Party.
Here's what he told us...
Patch: When and why did you become involved in the Tea Party movement?
White: I was part of a group (Tampa Townhall) meeting since 2003. We believed in the core issues of the Tea Party: fiscal discipline, fiscal sanity, and limited constitutionally based government. We want a smaller, leaner government. In 2009, the stimulus came along and we thought this is ridiculous - it's too much, spending. They're spending $800 billion now and those numbers add up really quickly. There was an evolution. We got organized. The Tea Party got Republicans elected all over the country in the state house and (congressional) races.
Patch: Do you feel the Tea Party's needs have been addressed sufficiently by the current Republican candidates?
White: No, not at all. I don’t think there's a good Tea Party candidate in the race, so we're making due with what we've got. The Tea Party would have loved to have seen Mitch Daniels, Paul Ryan or Marco Rubio.
Patch: Which candidate do you think has done the most to woo Tea Partiers?
White: Without a doubt, of the remaining candidates, Gingrich has spent the most time. He came out and spoke to Tea Party candidates in late 2009. I remember friends of mine saying "Gingrich listened to me."
Patch: Where does the Florida Tea Party movement stand in this election?
White: A bunch of us were talking about this last night. On Sunday, there was a telephone meeting where we got 6,000 Tea Partiers from the state of Florida on a conference call. We got the candidates to talk to us for 10 minutes. Romney, Santorum and Gingrich spoke to us for 10 minutes. Paul didn't participate. Then we voted. Thirty-five percent for Gingrich, 31 percent for Santorum and Romney was 16 or so. Gingrich has made an impression, but what if he doesn't get the nomination? Every single person said they would vote for whoever the Republican nominee is because we dislike Obama's policies so much.
Patch: Do you think the Republican nominee can get elected without the Tea Party actively campaigning for them?
White: Yes, I think it's possible, probably not wise to take the risk, but I do think that Obama is that vulnerable.
Patch: If Romney does become the nominee, is there something he can do to get Tea Partiers out there working for him in the campaign?
White: There are a lot of things, if he were to pick Gingrich for a running mate that would heal a lot of wounds or pick a Tea Party favorite like Mitch Daniels or Ryan Paul. So that's the first thing he can do is make a wise vice presidential choice. Also he would have to say something about being dedicated to a constitutionally limited government and I'm not sure that's the case. He'd have to do something to win us over.