Tri-State Tea Party Welcomes Romney To Philly

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Likely Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney spoke before the Tri-State Tea Party Caucus in Philadelphia Monday night. Romney struggled to win the backing of Tea Party supporters during the Republican primary season. Now that the campaign is entering the general phase, can Romney count on Tea Party support — especially in key states like Pennsylvania?


Likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney is reaching out to a segment of the Republican base that has given him trouble in this year's primary season: the Tea Party. Last night in Philadelphia, he spoke to activists from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. And as NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea reports, what might have been a tough crowd turned out to be just the opposite.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This event in the stately rotunda of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia was more formal than you often get in a Tea Party gathering. The crowd featured more blue blazers than American flag shirts. And the usual grumbling about Romney's conservative credentials was noticeably absent. Last night, Teri Adams, the president of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association, set a welcoming tone.


TERI ADAMS: This is a particularly esteemed honor. We look forward with interest and relish to his remarks this evening and offer him our warmest Philadelphia and Tea Party welcome.


GONYEA: A giant statue of Benjamin Franklin towered over the proceedings. Romney immediately struck a favorite Tea Party theme by talking about the nation's founding fathers.


MITT ROMNEY: Because they wrote words that have changed America, made us exceptional and changed the world. They said the creator endowed us with our rights - not the government, not the king, not the state, but the creator. And...


GONYEA: It was a speech full of references to liberty and freedom.


ROMNEY: This freedom has propelled America to be the most powerful economy in the world. And the reason that this president's had such a hard time understanding what it takes to get the economy going again is he doesn't understand the power and impact of economic freedom.

GONYEA: And there was plenty of this.


ROMNEY: President Obama thinks the economy is struggling because the stimulus wasn't big enough. The economy's struggling because government is too big, and we're going to bring it down to size.

GONYEA: He ended by saying the campaign is going to be fun, and by asking for Tea Party help in defeating President Obama. There were a lot of people in the audience who were only recent converts. Meg Shaffer sat in the front row. She works in management, and says just a few months back, she couldn't imagine voting for Romney. She was a Herman Cain fan. Now she says she's more than ready to vote for the man she calls the nominee.

MEG SHAFFER: He mussed his hair a little bit and came down to earth a little bit. My only concern that I have is I want to make sure that he relates to the middle class individual.

GONYEA: Jim Zenkowich, a letter carrier with the Postal Service, is a former Michele Bachmann supporter, and he liked Rick Santorum. Now he says he's comfortable with Romney, and is not worried the candidate will suddenly shift to the center politically for the general election.

JIM ZENKOWICH: He may highlight things that appeal to more moderate people, but that's not changing positions. That's just, you know, reaching out to different groups. You have to reach out to different groups in different ways.

GONYEA: Still, it's an open question how hard the Tea Party will actually work for Romney. That will depend on one thing, says New Jersey Tea Party member Bill Miller.

BILL MILLER: At this point, the only thing he can possibly do is who he picks for VP, who's going to be his people that he's going work with going forward.

GONYEA: Miller says a solid Tea Party conservative on the ticket would generate some real enthusiasm to go along with what is right now the promise of Tea Party votes. Don Gonyea, NPR News, Philadelphia.


As Romney works to consolidate support in his party, he has a shot at a kind of candidate's honeymoon now, facing less Republican opposition, a fresh look from the media and anticipation about his vice presidential choice. Romney enters that period trailing President Obama in the polls, but within striking range. Real Clear Politics, which compiles an average of public opinion polls, finds the president leading by about three points: 47-44 percent. Here's the downside for Romney: He is emerging from the fiercely contested primary season to find close to half of Americans hold an unfavorable view of him.

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