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. On Monday night in Philadelphia, he spoke to activists from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and what might have been a tough crowd turned out to be just the opposite.
Six-term Republican Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana is facing his first primary challenge since winning the job in the 1970s. The race is attracting big money from outside groups and superPACs, and is seen as a test of the strength of the Tea Party movement versus the power of incumbency.
As part of a new campaign, dozens of citizen groups around the country are searching voter registration lists, looking for problems.
They're also training poll watchers to monitor this fall's elections.
Leaders of the effort — spawned by the Tea Party movement — say they want to make sure that elections are free from voter fraud. But critics say it's part of a campaign to suppress the votes of minorities, students and others who tend to vote Democratic.
In 2009, Tea Party rallies raged in cities across the country. The movement put its stamp on the 2010 midterm elections when the Republicans retook the House of Representatives.
So far, throughout the GOP primary contest, every major candidate at some point has tried to frame himself or herself as the Tea Party's standard-bearer, but what's most striking about the movement this election has been its notable absence.
As we've been reporting on the program this morning, Mitt Romney went on the attack at the GOP presidential debate in Florida last night. His target was rival Newt Gingrich, who was forced to defend his record as House speaker and later as a consultant to mortgage giant Freddie Mac. Gingrich denied charges of influence peddling that were leveled by Romney. And Gingrich said he was the type of bold, tough leader Washington needs.