In Polk, no one candidate has tea party support
Several local tea party members said GOP candidate Rick Santorum would be the candidate most likely to draw their votes in the Florida Republic Primary, but poor performances in New Hampshire and South Carolina have left them fearful of wasting their vote.
“(Santorum) stands for closest to what I stand for — being a real conservative,” said Doug Lund, a member of the Lakeland Tea Party and the 9/12 Project. Lund says he will likely, but reluctantly, vote for Mitt Romney on Tuesday.
“I really believe everybody is going through what I am going through. I really believe everybody would get behind Santorum, but he just doesn’t seem to be catching fire.”
So trying to figure out just where Polk tea party votes will land Tuesday is tough. The TEA Party of Florida is formally endorsing Newt Gingrich, but none of the Polk groups will endorse any candidate.
“As a group, we are non-partisan and will not be officially endorsing a candidate. We come from all walks and readily admit that we are obviously strong constitutional conservatives,” Mark LaMons, president of the Lakeland Tea Party and 9/12 Project, wrote in an email.
“It is on this basis that we engage our elected officials. … ‘National’ Tea Party organizations do NOT speak for us.”
The same is true for both the Winter Haven 9-12 Project Group and the Ridge Patriots.
“Our group will not endorse any candidate in the Republican primary race,” wrote Steve O’Neal, president of the Winter Haven 9-12 Project Group. “Our members are individuals capable of deciding their own vote.
“In general, our members believe our country has been moving in the wrong direction for many decades.”
In the Winter Haven group, even husbands and wives are sometimes split, with one who doesn’t think Santorum is electable, and the other saying Santorum is the most conservative candidate.
Maureen Siebold, a founder of the Lakeland Tea Party and 9/12 Project, said she thinks there are no wasted votes in a primary because she will still be able to vote for a party nominee she can support, even if her candidate doesn’t win.
“In the primary I have a choice, I can decide who I really want to vote for. Wether I think he will win or not, I am going to pick that man,” said Siebold, who said she was supporting Santorum.
Santorum was scheduled to make a stop Saturday at the Lakeland Tea Party and 9/12 Project’s Strawberry Caucus in Lakeland, but he canceled. The caucus, however, will go on, LaMons said.
Lakeland group members will use the gathering to voice their opinions on the candidates to other group members.
In the end, those interviewed for this story said members of the tea party and similar groups will support any of the four current candidates over President Barack Obama.
“It will be anybody but Barrack Obama,” Siebold said.
But from now until Tuesday, each member of a Polk tea party organization will have to decide on their own which Republican they think should challenge the president.