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Christian right, Tea Party still wary of front-runner Romney

By Jim Acosta, CNN Political Correspondent
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Romney the front-runner?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mitt Romney tops most polls of 2012 Republican presidential candidates
  • Despite presumptive front-runner status, Tea Party activists say Romney isn't their choice
  • Christian conservatives are leery of what they see as contradictions in Romney's record

Washington (CNN) -- Mitt Romney seems to have everything going his way. The former Massachusetts governor is certainly ahead of the pack where it counts in fundraising and in many recent polls. He's the front-runner, right?

"Certainly that is where Mitt Romney is now. He's running really a strategy as a front-runner. He's not engaging the other candidates. He's focusing his attacks on Barack Obama. I think that's smart," said Doug Heye, a Republican strategist.

But for Romney to win the nomination, he will have to overcome deep reservations within two pillars of the modern-day GOP, Christian conservatives and the Tea Party movement.

"My prediction would be is that somebody is going to fill that vacuum, the true fiscal conservative in the race," said Matt Kibbe, president of the Tea Party organizer FreedomWorks. Kibbe said Tea Party activists across the country are doing more than just hoping for a Tea Party savior to jump into the race.

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"We're not waiting. We're shopping," said Kibbe.

In June, FreedomWorks invited 150 Tea Party organizers to a planning session where participants were asked for their candidate of choice in the 2012 field. Only one Tea Party activist at the meeting supported Romney, Kibbe said.

Tea Party conservatives remain outraged over Romney's record on health care reform. In recent months, he has defended the plan he signed into law as governor of Massachusetts, in which residents are required to buy health insurance.

"If anything, he has doubled down (on health care)," added Kibbe.

Some evangelical Republicans believe they lost their front-runner when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee decided against another presidential run.

"No question Mitt Romney benefited from Huckabee not running. That left a huge vacuum," said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Perkins, who has not endorsed a candidate in the GOP field, noted Romney has some appeal with many social conservatives. But he added there are lingering questions about contradictions in Romney's record.

"It's fair to say there are those who see his record when he was governor of Massachusetts as not consistent with the platform that he ran on four years ago," Perkins said.

Republicans may feel they have seen this movie before.

Not only have they heard the complaints about Romney's past positions on the issues. Consider his position in the polls.

In the latest WMUR poll in New Hampshire, Romney leads the field with 35% of the vote.

Flashback to a poll conducted by the same organization in July 2007 and the results are eerily similar. Romney was way out in front with 34%.

The question this time around is whether the Republican establishment will revert back to an old tradition: backing front-runners when the party believes it's their turn.

"We saw that with John McCain, with George Bush, with George Bush Sr., with Ronald Reagan. And on and on," said Heye. "We'll see if that holds true in this case."

 
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