In a heated conference call with dozens of Tea Party supporters throughout the state late Sunday, Florida's disparate Tea Party groups debated whether or not to endorse Republican Connie Mack in the Florida U.S. Senate primary.
The call, organized by Freedom Works, the conservative non-profit based in Washington, D.C., became very heated as several tea party backers urged the group to stay out of the primary while the Freedom Works supporters wanted to endorse Mack of Cape Coral, said Henry Kelley, chairman of the Fort Walton Beach Tea Party.
"The general consensus was not whether we should back Mack or LeMieux but why are we moving into the middle of a primary,'' Kelley told the Herald/Times. He said he supports LeMieux, in part because of Mack's refusal to debate, but expects most Tea Party members to support the Republican nominee. "Why would you jump in when there are only 60 days left?"
Documents written by Easton Randall of the Freedom Works Foundation show that the organization prefers Mack over LeMieux because of his voting record and his "penny plan" to cut federal spending 1 percent a year. Download Tea Party Florida_Senate_Race_Brief Download Tea Party Mack Florida_6-10
To confuse matters further, Mack has been endorsed by the Tea Party of Florida, the Orlando-based third party group started by activist Doug Guetzloe but which is not supported by grassroots tea party activists around the state.
"That group was anathema to tea party groups throughout the state,'' said Tim Curtis, chairman of the Tampa 912 Project and a local tea party organizer.
He said that many grassroots groups opposed to endorsing a candidate because it woud violate their tax exempt status under the IRS status while others do not believe that a single endorsement can represent their diverse views.
"We are not monolithic,'' said Curtis, who is a registered Democrat. "There is a great, hugh, gynormous diversity of opinion within the tea party groups and 912 groups throughout the state...We have shared principles values views and vision of the nation and upon those tings we do speak with one voice."
Freedom Works is the conservative non-profit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. that was founded by former conservative congressman Dick Armey. Meanwhile, the tea party organization it backs, the Tea Party Express, is finishing a two-month bus tour of the nation in Florida this week. It held a rally in Tallahassee on Sunday attended by Gov. Rick Scott.
Taylor Budowich said the Tea Party Express has endorsed in several Senate races in other states but has not decided whether to endorse in Florida because "the local groups haven't coalesced around a candidate yet."
Kelley, the Fort Walton Beach tea party chief, warned however that many local grass roots organizations are wary of the Tea Party Express because of its affiliation with Armey and Freedom Works. "Dick Armey is a branch of the Republican Party just manipulating the tea party brand,'' he said.