Mitt Romney's decision to actively court tea party voters is causing a nasty schism in the conservative grassroots movement.
On the one hand, Romney appears to be in the good graces of the Tea Party Express and influential Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. On the other hand, though, Dick Armey's aggressive FreedomWorks organization intends to protest Romney this weekend.
Team Romney confirmed earlier this week that Mitt will appear Sunday evening at a rally in Concord, N.H., held in conjunction with the Tea Party Express bus tour.
"Romney's appearance at the event is significant: he has not headlined any events in the Tea Party Express's previous four bus tours," CNN.com reported Tuesday. "Meanwhile, leaders of other tea party groups say they cannot recall any major tea party events that Romney has spoken to or attended since the movement began in 2009."
The inclusion of Romney in the Tea Party Express rally catalyzed FreedomWorks to not only pull its support from the event but also hatch plans for a counter rally.
Politico summarized the tea party crisis: "FreedomWorks, which had been participating in the Tea Party Express's tour and had helped turn out activists at rallies during prior stops, decided it could no longer be affiliated with the tour, said Brendan Steinhauser, a lead organizer for FreedomWorks. Instead, it began working with local New Hampshire tea party groups to organize a counter rally set for about the same time in the same park in Concord as Romney's speech. 'We have to defend our brand against poseurs,' said Steinhauser."
Romney will leave New Hampshire on Monday morning and fly to South Carolina to take part in the Labor Day presidential forum organized by tea party godfather DeMint.
"Romney had originally indicated he would not attend the DeMint event," Jonathan Martin reported for Politico on Wednesday. "But he changed his mind after having a conversation with the influential conservative. … DeMint was a key Romney backer in 2008, but is holding out this election cycle. Romney's reconsideration suggests that the South Carolinian hasn't ruled out endorsing the former governor again."
As conveyed to the Associated Press, the spin Romney's campaign is putting on this unfolding storyline is that the candidate's planned patronage of upcoming tea party events really isn't a big deal.
"The Romney campaign insists that his reaching out to tea party activists is nothing new. Spokesman Ryan Williams said Romney already committed to a Sept. 12 Tea Party Express debate in Florida. He has been in touch with tea party leaders across the country and has spoken at tea party events, including a New Hampshire dinner hosted by the fiscally conservative group Americans for Prosperity."
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