Boston It’s a tricky time of courtship.
As the tea party turns 2, the still-gelling field of Republican presidential contenders is the first class of White House hopefuls to try to figure out how to tap the movement’s energy without alienating voters elsewhere on the political spectrum.
Look no further than this weekend’s events marking the tea party’s second anniversary to see how the candidates are employing different strategies. Some will be out front as the tea party stages tax day rallies across the country. Others, not so much.
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, an establishment Republican making a play for tea party support and clamoring to be heard over bigger names, is among those jumping in with both feet. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour is being more coy.
Pawlenty joined a gathering on Boston Common — in the city where colonists staged the 1773 Tea Party revolt against the British government — and earlier in neighboring New Hampshire. And he’s headed for Iowa a day later for similar appearances that are likely to include “Don’t Tread on Me” banners and tirades against Washington spending.
Pawlenty led a crowd here in chanting “Yes, he did!” — a negative take on Obama’s “Yes, we can!” campaign slogan — as he listed what he called Obama’s broken promises to halve the federal deficit, contain health care costs with GOP aid and prevent 8 percent unemployment.
“Thank you for being modern-day Paul Reveres, sounding the alarm and being the patriots who are going to lead the effort to take back our country,” he said, echoing an earlier appearance in Concord.
For his part, Obama said he welcomed the activists’ work to “force some questions to the surface about who we are as a people, and what can we afford and what kind of government do we want.”
“Obviously I have very different views than many in the tea party and certainly they would say they have very different views from me in terms of the proper role of government in our society,” Obama said in an interview with The Associated Press, “but my general view is that the more engaged the American people are, the more focused they are, then the better off our democracy will be over the long term.”
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, perhaps the Republican most closely identified with the tea party, is slated to attend a weekend tea party rally at the Wisconsin Capitol, the site of recent protests over legislation that would strip union rights for most public workers.
Tea party darling Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, all but drafted into the race by tea partyers, plans to share the steps of the South Carolina Statehouse with another of the movement’s favorite daughters, Gov. Nikki Haley.
And little-known businessman Herman Cain, who is hoping tea party backing can make him more than a longshot, planned to hit rallies in New Hampshire, Iowa, Michigan and Texas.
“A sleeping giant — we the people — has awakened, and it’s not going back to sleep,” Cain said. “We the people are still in charge of this country, no matter what you decide to call us.”
Real estate magnate Donald Trump, who says he’s serious about running, picked a tea party rally in Boca Raton, Fla., to make his stand.
And former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum told a crowd on the New Hampshire Statehouse’s lawn that the 2012 election is a choice between the nation’s founding fathers or Obama.
“Are we a country that is again going to believe in ourselves, in free people, in limited government, so we can transform the world and leave our country better than we found it?”