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Gov. Perry Disappoints Some Tea Party Supporters

GREG ALLEN: I'm Greg Allen in Tampa. As members of the audience emerged from last night's debate, one thing was clear: Texas Governor Rick Perry didn't win himself many new supporters from Tea Party ranks.

ANASTASIA PRZYBYLSKY: Personally, I am less of a Perry fan than I was coming into the debate.

ANGIE GARRETT: Yes, Rick Perry really disappointed me when he was talking about the borders.

ALLEN: Immigration.


ALLEN: In what way?

GARRETT: He - I think he's too soft.

ALLEN: Anastasia Przybylsky, from Bucks County, Pennsylvania; and Angie Garrett, from Tampa, both said they were surprised by what they learned about Perry, particularly his stance on immigration. Another Tea Party member who was in the audience, Dina Fox from Tampa, said she was concerned about his executive order, later overturned by the legislature, requiring teenage girls to be vaccinated against a sexually transmitted virus that causes cervical cancer.

DINA FOX: Well, it makes you want to look a little closer at his policies and investigate him further, because I definitely don't think that's a constitutional thing to do, nor an American thing to do.

ALLEN: If Perry lost points with some in this Tea Party audience, his closest rival, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, was not gaining many, either. A few people I spoke with thought Romney was wrong to attack Perry for his comments comparing Social Security to a Ponzi scheme, even though that issue was raised by several of Perry's rivals last night, beginning with a statewide health-care plan he created in Massachusetts. He says some things the Tea Party likes to hear - smaller government, less taxes, a balanced budget amendment. But Przybylsky says she's not sure yet that she trusts him.

PRZYBYLSKY: Your traditional Republican Party, they get their eye on a candidate. It's like they earn their way through; they've, you know, proven themselves to the party bosses. And I think the Tea Party movement is kind of breaking that paradigm. So maybe, you know, Romney was next in line, but he has to prove himself to us.

ALLEN: Several also had good things to say about former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and businessman Herman Cain. Dan Fanelli, who drove over from the Orlando area, also said he thought Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann made some good points in her attacks on Governor Perry. Fanelli said Bachmann impressed him more than in the last debate.

DAN FANELLI: She's starting to rise back up again. It was definitely not a knockout blow for Rick Perry at all. He's going to continue to fare well. But I think he may have gone down a little bit, and she may have come up a little bit there.

ALLEN: As for Texas congressman Ron Paul, he did well with the Tea Party faithful until he started talking about national defense and drew boos from the audience. Nearly an hour later, Brenda Jansen of Orlando was still mad about Paul saying U.S. forces deployed in Afghanistan and other countries just invite more terrorist attacks.

BRENDA JANSEN: We're Americans. We believe in defending our country, and I'd certainly rather defend it over there than defend it here.

ALLEN: But most of those emerging from the hall last night were in high spirits, pleased at the recognition by CNN and other media of the Tea Party's political clout. I asked Ron DiSantis from Ponte Verde Beach, Florida, whether he thought the Tea Party will decide the Republican nomination.

RON DISANTIS: Well, I hope it's important, because I think Republicans need to just not nominate the next guy in line. And I think when you have this strong grassroots support, I think you end up being a more effective candidate. Republicans have a good chance this year. Don't give someone a choice between sitting home or going out and pulling the lever for someone they don't like - because some people may choose to sit home.

ALLEN: Whether they choose to sit home on Election Day may depend in large measure on the role they feel they've had in choosing the name that's on the ballot as the alternative to President Obama. Greg Allen, NPR News, Tampa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.