Teaming up in Ohio
In pivotal Ohio, tea party organizers who not long ago opposed the presumptive Republican nominee recently supplied hundreds of volunteers for a Romney campaign operation dubbed the “Buckeye Blitz.” In June, the volunteers visited more than 100,000 households identified by the GOP as undecided or independent voters, according to David Zupan, a tea party activist in Avon Lake, a suburb of Cleveland. In a big push this month, a mix of tea party and other Romney volunteers visited at least 40,000 homes in all 88 Ohio counties, according to Scott Jennings, Romney’s state director in Ohio.
Tea party activists in the state are most focused on electing Republican Senate candidate Josh Mandel, the state treasurer, who was the star attraction at a meeting of more than 1,000 tea party activists in Columbus in late June.
“We had some success as a movement, but we realized we just didn’t have the knowledge that we needed. How many signatures do you need? Campaign law? How do you qualify?” said Tom Zawistowski, president of Ohio’s Portage County Tea Party. “We went from a protest movement to an activist movement with a structure.”
Criticism of a new alliance
The increased collaboration hasn’t been successful everywhere. Some tea party leaders have been harshly critical, saying the movement is becoming too overtly aligned with the Republican Party.
In some states, tea party efforts have also had unintended consequences. The tea party campaign in Indiana, which included more than $600,000 spent by FreedomWorks, visits by volunteers to 125,000 homes and more than 400,000 phone calls, was key to the resounding primary defeat of Lugar, the longtime senator. But polls now suggest that the once solidly Republican seat is a tossup in the November face-off between state Treasurer Richard Mourdock, the tea party candidate, and Rep. Joe Donnelly, a central Indiana Democrat. That could lead to a new Democratic senator in a seat that was long unquestionably Republican.
The tea party also has a fundamental quandary in the presidential campaign: its previously ferocious opposition to Romney. Deep into the primary season, tea party groups routinely blasted him as unacceptable. Last fall, a promotional Web page for a FreedomWorks anti-Romney rally in New Hampshire called the candidate an “establishment hack” who “represents everything the tea party stands against.”
FreedomWorks says that it hasn’t taken back anything but that any alternative to President Obama is preferable.
“The critique stands,” Brendan Steinhauser, the group’s director of state and federal campaigns, said in an interview. “But Mitt Romney will be a better candidate because of the wringer we’ve put him through.”