Tea Party Eyes 2012 Presidential Race in Iowa

The Tea Party works to assert influence beyond the midterm elections.

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Elements of the famously independent Tea Party movement are packing up their election-winning playbooks and moving to Iowa and other early 2012 presidential caucus and primary states. Their goal is to identify and energize supporters to pick Republican candidates that will appeal to the national movement, not just to small-state party regulars. "We are indeed preparing a full-scale ground game for Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Florida," says Eric Odom of Liberty.com and Americans for New Leadership, which played a big role in the Nevada Senate race. "This includes statewide conferences and events, traditional get-out-the-vote organizing, Tea Party organizing, advocacy campaigns, and pretty much everything we can do to help sway the outcome of the primary in these states," he adds.

For Liberty.com and other groups, the plan is to get Tea Party activists, who have not yet played a role in the caucuses and primaries, to jump in with both feet to stop the GOP establishment from picking the presidential candidate. Also, by targeting several primaries, they hope to minimize the outsized influence the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary have in choosing the eventual nominees. "We don't want to be forced to accept the same old retreads," says another Liberty.com official. By going door-to-door early next year, they hope to identify up to 50,000 activists in each state.

The larger FreedomWorks group, led by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey, is also going national, with plans to hunker down in the early primary and caucus states too. Spokesman Adam Brandon says the group will bring FreedomConnect, its social networking site that allows Tea Party activists to connect and chart activities within the state, to the early presidential-election states.

Brandon says the first goal is to put heat on new House and Senate members to make good on their Tea Party promises. And pushing conservative and constitutional ideas "will end up driving the presidential cycle" by forcing 2012 candidates to address those issues. "Right now we're more focused on the current legislative cycle and the lame-duck Congress, and what we do will set the tone and agenda" for the 2012 GOP primaries and caucuses, he adds.

For now, it's unclear if the groups will endorse anyone, but Liberty.com has its eyes on a handful of potential candidates and will back one if it believes its support will make a difference.

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