- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rep. Michele Bachmann founded and leads the House Tea Party Caucus, but the Minnesota Republican’s presidential bid has won only one endorsement from its five dozen members — putting her well shy of Mitt Romney, who leads the presidential field with eight supporters from the caucus.

Mr. Romney’s lead in the endorsement chase clashes with the generally accepted story line and polls that show the former Massachusetts governor is out of sync with the grass-roots tea party movement, which helped Republicans capture the House and grab six Senate seats in the 2010 elections.

“Absolutely freaking stunned would be the words I would use,” Judson Phillips, the vocal leader of Tea Party Nation, told The Washington Times when informed of Mr. Romney’s popularity.

“Obviously, anybody can join the Tea Party Caucus in Congress, but his support at least among the tea party rank and file is minimal,” Mr. Phillips said. “If Romney becomes the nominee, basically, it would be the death of the Republican Party and the death of the conservative movement.”

Mrs. Bachmann’s single endorsement — from Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican — leaves her tied with Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who bailed out of the race four months ago but had the backing of Rep. Joe Wilson, South Carolina Republican and Caucus member.

Mrs. Bachmann’s camp did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, said the endorsements show that her boss “shares with tea party members a concern about controlling debt and deficits and has the leadership experience of actually creating jobs and balancing budgets to get the job done.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry has won the stamp of approval from seven of the group’s members, while four have lined up behind former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

The rest of the field has failed to corral a single endorsement from the group, though Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, known as the “Tea Party Godfather” in some conservative circles, does enjoy the support of his son, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and a founding member of the Senate Tea Party Caucus.

Mrs. Bachmann established the House Tea Party Caucus in 2010, saying that it would be less about speaking for the grass-roots movement and more about listening to it.

Since then, the caucus has blossomed to 60 members, though it last met June 2 and polls show that the better the movement has become known, the more its popularity has slipped.

Within the Republican Party, though, the “tea party” label is still sought.

Mrs. Bachmann, in recent television appearances, has cast herself as “the true tea party candidate in the race” and assured audiences that she’s “not a chameleon.” The remark is an apparent attack against Mr. Romney and Mr. Gingrich, both of whom have been labeled as flip-floppers on a variety of issues.

“That’s why I think they’re going to come home, and I’ll be their candidate on Jan. 3, because if you take a look at the top contenders, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, it’s very hard for a tea partyer to see them as the consistent conservative,” Mrs. Bachmann said Tuesday on the CBS “Early Show.” “They backed [President] Obama’s health care plan in various forms, in different ways. They’ve been for the global warming initiatives. They’ve been for the TARP bailouts.”

Last week, her campaign announced that activist Ryan Rhodes had been named the campaign's tea party outreach director. The same day, Mrs. Bachmann received the endorsement from Mr. Franks — the one caucus member backing her bid.

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