Romney's rise challenges tea party's clout in GOP

October 17, 2011 - 6:35 PM
Republicans Money

FILE - In this Oct. 11, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidate former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a Republican presidential debate at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Republicans Mitt Romney and Rick Perry are neck and neck in filling their presidential campaign coffers after a summer of strong fundraising amid voter anger over jobs and the economy. They're pulling in big bucks, $30 million combined, though not nearly as big as the man they hope to replace in the White House. (AP Photo/Daniel Acker, Pool, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney's early success in the Republican presidential race is challenging the tea party's clout. Will it continue to pull the GOP sharply right? Or will it merge with mainstream Republican elements in a nod to pragmatism?

Romney's strength seems at odds with the tea party's fiery success in ousting Republicans seen as compromisers.

He defends the government's 2008 bank bailouts. He defends the mandated health insurance he initiated as Massachusetts governor. He once supported abortion rights, gun control and gay rights.

Yet Romney is faring better in polls and fundraising than are contenders with stronger tea party credentials.

Some Republican strategists say tea partyers are more pragmatic than most people think. Others say Romney may face problems with tea partyers if TV attack ads underscore his more moderate positions.