Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio battle for tea party’s 2016 support – Washington Times

After a rough 2014 election season in which most of their candidates were shellacked in Republican primaries, tea party leaders said the trio in the presidential contest shows their movement still has life.

“The fact that the first three Republican candidates are going to be candidates that ran for the U.S. Senate and were elected to the U.S. Senate on tea party values and now intend to run for the presidency on tea party values shows the strength and maturity of the movement,” said Jenny Beth Martin, president and co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots.

Mr. Paul joins Mr. Cruz, elected to the Senate from Texas in 2012, as the first two major announced Republican candidates. Mr. Rubio, elected to the Senate from Florida in 2010, is expected to announce his campaign Monday. All three tea party favorites overcame better-funded, establishment-backed candidates en route to easy general election victories.

Mark Meckler, founder and president of Citizens for Self-Governance, said “grass-roots activists are excited by the prospect of having many leading candidates in the race who clearly speak to their values and whose actions match their words.”

He said the three will ensure that tea party views are major parts of Republican presidential conversations.

Some activists, though, warned that too many options could dilute tea party power and open the door for former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush or another establishment-backed moderate to emerge victorious.

Ken Crow, a tea party activist in Iowa, said he has been trying to organize a gathering of the movement’s leaders from across the country in hopes of unifying activists behind a single candidate.

Mr. Crow said he wants to avoid a repeat of 2012, when former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the establishment favorite, nearly won Iowa’s caucuses, finishing 34 votes behind former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania despite the heavy conservative cast of the state’s electorate.

“What happened in Iowa last time was this: You had groups that supported Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and on down the line it went, and come caucus time that vote, the uber-conservative vote, did get split four or five different ways,” he said.

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