In the brewing battle for New Hampshire, the tea party is emerging as a wild card for Republican presidential hopefuls who want the movement’s energy but must also appeal to the state’s crucial independent voters.
The nominal GOP front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, appears to be hedging his bets on the tea party. He was a no-show at a tax-day, tea-party rally at the state Capitol here Friday, choosing instead to talk taxes in Florida.
Independent voters, however, have been fickle in the Granite State, and it is not clear how they will respond to that kind of rallying cry.
They flooded to the polls in the 2000 Republican primary to blunt George W. Bush’s rise and deliver New Hampshire to John McCain. Independents flowed into the Democratic primary in 2008 to give New Hampshire to Hillary Clinton, confounding conventional wisdom and ensuring an epic fight between the former first lady and Barack Obama.
In the absence of a Democratic primary challenge to President Obama, independents are likely to crowd the GOP primary expected to take place in February 2012, New Hampshire political organizers say.
Republicans need to figure out how to talk to both independents and tea party activists, said Jim Merrill, a Republican political consultant and Romney organizer.