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N.H. Tea Party Looks To Replicate 2010 Gains

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2010 was a great year for Republicans, as they secured veto-proof majorities in Concord. The energy of the Tea Party was one reason why.

This November, the GOP hopes to reclaim the Governor’s office, and give Mitt Romney the state’s four electoral votes.

But while there has been a noticeable decline in Tea Party rallies—a staple of the movement’s early days—activists say there is no drop in enthusiasm. 

At a recent campaign event for Paul Ryan in Dover, it sounded more like 2010 than 2012.

"I think it is time to take the gloves off," roared Jack Kimball. "Take the gloves off!"

You may recall Kimball: he ran for governor as a Tea Party candidate two years ago, and parlayed that into a brief stint as Republican Party chairman. Party leaders forced him out just seven months later.

But as the applause suggest, there is still plenty of appetite for Tea Party style rhetoric. And also an appetite for strong conservative candidates--politicians who won’t compromise their principles, or fall under the label of moderate.

Atop the ticket, Mitt Romney has had trouble proving those credentials. And that worries some conservatives.

"I don’t pretend to speak for the Tea Party, but I think there is clearly a level of frustration amongst some of them, that Mitt Romney is probably not as conservative as they would have wanted," says Corey Lewandowski, State Director of Americans for Prosperity.

"Now, that said, when you get into the sanctity of the ballot box, you know, people need to make a decision."

That choice, between a candidate that doesn’t motivate hardcore Republicans and a President that conservatives loathe, frustrates Jerry DeLemus, former chairman of the Granite State Patriots Liberty PAC.

"I’m so tired of the lesser of two evils for our vote," says DeLemus. "America deserves better than that. We got people fighting over in Afghanistan in Iraq around the world for us. And all we can come up with is the lesser of two evils to vote for?"

DeLemus concedes there’s one vote he is eager to cast. It’s for his wife Susan. She was one of many lawmakers with Tea Party roots who gained seats in Concord in 2010.

That was no accident: conservative groups in New Hampshire focus on down-ticket races.

And in 2012, instead of sign-waving, many in the Tea Party are now candidates, canvassers and fundraisers.

Carolyn McKinney runs the Republican Liberty Caucus in New Hampshire.

"Most of the Tea Party types that I know, there’s no enthusiasm drop there. They are actually just spending a lot of their time trying to further the movement in other ways.In ways that aren’t necessarily as publicly visible, but are just as important."

McKinney’s group, for example, worked to weed out moderate Republicans in the September primaries.

It targeted six incumbents who voted against so-called Right to Work legislation.

Meanwhile, Americans for Prosperity went after candidates who supported the regional cap-and-trade system known as RGGI.

Lawmakers like Peter Bolster of Alton found themselves caught in the middle.

"Unfortunately, it’s a situation where it is a very narrow line that the Republican party has unfortunately gravitated to, to the point that people who at one time in the Legislature were considered fairly conservative are now basically considered to the left wing of the party," says Bolster.

Bolton lost his primary bid to a more conservative candidate.

Dean Spiliotes, a political scientist at SNHU, says that even though staunch conservatives did well in the primaries, this November will be different than two years ago, when a mid-term election kept turnout down.  

"This presidential election is going to bring out a much broader demographic of voters, which may serve to dilute the influence of the Tea Party a little bit."

Democrats certainly hope so. Many candidates, from gubernatorial nominee Maggie Hassan on down, are trying to use the Tea Party label as a campaign tool against their political rivals. 

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.

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