(WASHINGTON) — Mitt Romney, Tea Party candidate? Not so fast.
The Republican front-runner appeared to be on an easy path to the nomination the morning after his win in Illinois, when The Washington Times reported that an influential tea party group, Freedom Works, was ready to fall in line behind him, supposedly capping the months-long struggle Romney has endured to sway conservative voters.
Unfortunately for Romney, the report — especially the headline — wasn’t totally right, and the tea party is showing no sign of uniting behind him, or any candidate for that matter. Though the tea party remains a force in the GOP primary, it is a fractured group whose members have separate allegiances to all four candidates in their first presidential election as a movement.
“Finally, Romney Gets Tea Party Support” read the headline on the Times story, which quoted a FreedomWorks vice president as saying that “it is a statistical fact that the numbers favor Mitt Romney” and that “we are dedicated to defeating Obama and electing a conservative Senate that will help Romney repeal Obamacare and address the nation’s economic and spending challenges.”
FreedomWorks later clarified that the VP of the tea party organizing group, which boasts 1.6 million members, was merely talking about the state of the GOP race, and that Romney is the front-runner, fairly obviously.
“The headline was pretty misleading. We’re not backing Romney for president at all,” said Jackie Bodnar, a FreedomWorks spokeswoman.
FreedomWorks had protested Romney at a tea party rally in New Hampshire over what it said were inaccurate comments Romney had made about his policies being consistent with tea party sentiment. The protest earned FreedomWorks a reputation of opposing Romney’s candidacy, though Bodnar said the group doesn’t oppose him vehemently.
“I think we’re all kind of united under getting a conservative Republican in the White House rather than President Obama,” she said. “But it’s not an ‘anything but Romney’ thing.”
Romney has improved his standing among the tea party, but still has trouble persuading strong conservatives that he’s a better choice than his main rival, Rick Santorum, or even the third-place candidate, Newt Gingrich.
In Illinois Tuesday night, for example, Romney won the most voters who described themselves as tea party supporters, but only among those who said they backed the movement “somewhat.” Voters who said they strongly supported the tea party split their choice between Romney and Santorum.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio