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Hundreds of Ron Paul activists won election as state delegates to Republican National Convention this month by claiming to be committed to Mr. Romney, a violation of party and state rules. Party regulars and many tea partyers say that only later did these supporters reveal that they had always intended to put into nomination the name of Ron Paul and to vote for him at the Tampa, Fla., convention.

Early-on evidence

Several other tea partyers said they have seen even earlier evidence of the Paul family goal to get a Republican back in the White House.

In Ohio, Tea Party Patriots state coordinator Ralph King said that by not “beating up on Mitt Romney during the nomination battle, Ron Paul showed he respected — I’d say liked — Romney. But if Ron Paul had endorsed him, Ron Paul would have caught hell from lots of his supporters. Rand gives Ron cover to signal he wants his followers to cooperate with the tea party.”

The tea party, with many of its members saying their first priority is to cut the national debt and federal budget deficit, has gotten behind Mr. Romney. They have come to pin their hopes on him as a savvy businessman who is the only practical alternative to a second Obama term and who may keep his promise to bring both frugality and economic-growth incentives to the management to the U.S. economy.

“I believe that a big reason that Republicans lost control of the House and Senate in 2006 was that they did not keep our promise to keep Government small and spending down — and the American people punished us for that,” Rand Paul said in the letter to potential Neumann donors. “We can’t let that happen again.”

The process of lining up behind Mr. Romney has been another — and messy — matter.

At this stage, support for Mr. Romney among the thousands of local tea party groups is real but tepid, conversations with tea partyers across the country suggest.

The tea party and the Paulist liberty movement members, both sides say, have this in common: They are tired of electing lawmakers, governors and presidents who promise fiscal restraint at home and less of a rush to intervention abroad but then do the opposite once in office. But the tea party and the Liberty Movement activists also realize that taking a totally principled stand almost surely will yield little in the way of practical results.

Meanwhile, because Rand Paul offers a home for the Liberty Movement activists who want to see some results on the ground, he could bring as many as half of the Paul troops into coalition with the tea party, forming a battalion in the army of Romney supporters in November.

“The tea party got Rand elected,” tea party activist Jason Hoyt of Florida said. “And now maybe half the liberty movement is saying Rand Paul is the future of the movement because Rand is more realistic, pragmatic and strategic than some of the ‘in your face’ libertarian supporters of Ron Paul.”