Tea and Sympathy: Romney’s Endorsements May Haunt Him

While Mitt Romney's campaign celebrates his clutch endorsement today from Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley, Democrats might be equally happy about it come November.

The Republican presidential contenders have clamored for the endorsement of the South Carolina governor, who today praised Romney for "conservatively governing a Democratic state."

Haley announced her decision three days after Christine O'Donnell, another Tea Party star, who lost her bid for Senate in Delaware, said she backed Romney.

The support is timely, arriving as Romney finds himself in a tight race with Newt Gingrich, who has presented himself as the more conservative of the two, and a surer bet to take on President Obama in November. The Democratic National Committee has gone so far as to label Gingrich the " original Tea Partier."

But while the Tea Party endorsements might help Romney in a few key primaries and caucuses, Democrats are probably happy to use the associations and endorsements against Romney in the general election if the former Massachusetts governor is the Republican nominee.

"The more that Mitt Romney connects himself to the Tea Party, the easier it would be to beat him in a general election," said Lanae Erickson, a policy and politics deputy director at Third Way, a think tank that supports moderate ideas.

Haley herself is struggling in her home state. The latest Winthrop University poll found that 43 percent of registered voters said they disapproved of her job performance. Obama, meanwhile, had a nearly 45 percent approval rating in the South Carolina poll.

Romney's endorsements come from other places than the extreme conservative wing of his party, of course. In New Hampshire, for example, he's been backed by former Sen. Judd Gregg, who was once considered for a post in Obama's cabinet. Romney also has the support of former Sen. Mel Martinez, now a co-chairman at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which encourages compromise among the parties.

But Romney's more centrist endorsements might be discarded by the Obama campaign if it were to try to link Romney closely to the far right. Erickson suggested that Democrats could coin "Mitt Romney's Tea Party plan" - reminiscent of the way Obama stumped in 2008 against "Bush-McCain economic policies."

"You better believe that President Obama is going to be linking it back over and over again," she said.

The chairwoman of the Tea Party Express, Amy Kremer, said that a main challenge for the Tea Party is persuading Americans that the movement isn't extreme. "There's no one candidate that has the support of the Tea Party movement" because it's diverse, she said.

"The Tea Party's not a bad thing," Kremer said, citing its principles of fiscal responsibility, limited government and the free market. "I'm really tired of the media writing this narrative that the Tea Party's this negative thing. Because we're not."

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