DENVER — Tea party activists long skeptical of Mitt Romney are either warming up to the GOP presidential front-runner or reluctantly backing him after giving up on finding a candidate they like better.

Whatever the reason, the former Massachusetts governor who scored back-to-back wins in Florida and Nevada now is picking up larger shares of the tea party vote than he did when the Republican nomination fight began.

The movement has influence early on, forcing candidates to parrot its language and promote its agenda of restrained spending.

But the coalition was fractured and plagued by infighting. It also watched as all of its preferred candidates fell out of favor or left the race. The remaining candidates have attributes tea partyers like but also face huge hurdles. The leaves them with Romney.