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Touting tea party backing, Akin's endorsed by Bachmann and King

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 12, 2012 - WASHINGTON – The struggle for tea party-related support among Missouri’s Republican Senate contenders continued Thursday as U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Wildwood, announced the endorsement of former presidential hopeful and congressional Tea Party Caucus founder Michele Bachmann.

Akin’s corralling of U.S. Reps. Bachmann, R-Minn., and Steve King, R-Iowa – staunch conservatives who, along with Akin, were among the caucus’ founding members in 2010 – follows last month’s dispute over the significance of the Tea Party Express’ endorsement of GOP Senate contender and former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman.

Upset with that decision by the nation’s biggest tea party political action committee, 18 Missouri-based tea party groups issued a statement in March disavowing the endorsement, saying the California-based Tea Party Express does “not speak for Missouri tea party organizations when stating they have identified a 'true Tea Party candidate in Missouri.'” Two other tea party-aligned groups – the Missouri Conservative Coalition and the Gateway Grassroots Initiative – later issued similar statements.

The Gateway Grassroots Initiative, which includes activists who broke away from  the St. Louis Tea Party, said in a statement that the Tea Party Express' support for Steelman “was done without consulting or reaching out to local groups to gauge whether or not their endorsement was a wise one.”

The third major Republican contender for the Senate nomination, St. Louis businessman John Brunner, also announced several endorsements Thursday.

In an interview, Akin said no one GOP Senate candidate will garner support from all of the state’s tea party groups. “The Missouri tea party groups are all pretty independent, and they all have their own opinions,” Akin said. “There are some very prominent tea party leaders that are huge supporters of ours – on the national stage as well as locally. We do have the support of quite a number of local tea party groups.”

While two other Missouri U.S. House members are in the Tea Party Caucus – Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, and Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville – neither has yet made an endorsement in the GOP Senate race. Akin, who has been endorsed by “quite a number” of other U.S. House conservatives, said he has “not specifically asked” for their endorsements, in part because “I don’t want to put them in a crossfire” among Missouri Republicans.

The U.S. House Tea Party caucus was founded by Bachmann and others in mid-2010 and grew to 60 members last year with the arrival of tea-backed GOP freshmen. Bachmann made much of her Tea Party support before dropping out of the GOP presidential race in January. King is an outspoken fiscal and social conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and wants a crackdown on illegal immigration.

“Michele Bachmann was the one who really started” the Tea Party caucus, Akin said, but she was soon joined by Akin, King and others “who had been working together as a team” to oppose the Obama’s administration’s Affordable Care Act. “We were very much in the minority but fighting against government takeover of health care.”

In a statement, Akin called Bachmann and King “dear friends and colleagues” who are among “the most staunch defenders of Liberty” in Congress. “I am proud to stand with them and I am very grateful for their support in this important race.”

King is scheduled to appear with Akin at campaign events this weekend in Missouri, including a “KC Tea Party Tax Day Rally” at 10 a.m., Sat., April 14 in Kansas City and a “Taxed Enough Already Rally” at 1 p.m. that day at the Missouri Capitol Rotunda in Jefferson City. Akin said tea party groups had asked for King to speak.

The Missouri tea party groups that said last month that they did not endorse Steelman were: Branson Tea Party, Callaway Patriots Tea Party, Capital Tea Party, Cooper County Tea Party, Eureka Tea Party, Franklin County Patriots, I Heard The People Say (a St. Louis County group), Jefferson County Tea Party, Lebanon Tea Party, Liberty Restoration Project, Macon County Patriots, Mid-MO Patriots, Northsiders TEA Party, Sikeston Tea Party, Springfield Tea Party, Springfield/Greene County TEA Party, and the Sullivan 9-12 Group. The Missouri Conservative Coalition, which also includes a number of tea party groups, also criticized the Tea Party Express' action.