LAS VEGAS, Nevada--Turn on the news, and Mitt Romney's solar-powered surge in Florida is everywhere, with big crowds flocking to an energized candidate who's comfortably leading his closest rival in the polls by as many as 14 points. But at least one Nevada Tea Party leader isn't totally buying it.
Vicki Dooling, a prominent Tea Party organizer here, said she and many of her peers are hoping against hope for a South Carolina miracle: a late-in-the-game surge by Newt Gingrich (or anyone else, really) that serves to slow down Romney's march to the nomination. Call it Tea Party skepticism or just wishful thinking, but Dooling isn't so sure that Romney will win Florida in a blowout.
"Why do we have to listen to that? Is it true?" said Dooling. "I mean, it makes me wonder sometimes. I don't know if it's true or not, or if it's just being put out by Mitt Romney."
Dooling — who runs communications for the Las Vegas Valley Tea Party and works for national nonprofit TheTeaParty.net — has not endorsed a candidate herself. And while she's careful to note that she doesn't speak for all the state's Tea Party groups, she made one thing very clear: the conservative activists in Nevada, which holds its caucuses four days after Florida, are firmly in the anyone-but-Mitt camp.
And they're almost certain to be disappointed.
"Mitt Romney's going to take the state [of Nevada] because of the Mormons," Dooling said frankly, setting aside her Florida daydreams for more realistic punditry in a state she knows well. "But I don't believe that's what any of the Tea Parties really want... I don't think they're for him. I just don't."
But while Dooling is defiant in contending that the race is far from over, she said she's also trying to brace Tea Partiers for the reality that Romney could become their nominee--and that they'll have to hold their nose and support him.
A third-party conservative bid could gain serious traction in Nevada, Dooling said, noting Ron Paul's active network of supporters here. But such dramatic action would ensure a victory for President Obama, and so she's been preaching prudence to her conservative cohorts.
"That'll be a real problem," she said. "Because I don't know how old you are, but I voted for Ross Perot--I screwed up big time. I'm telling everyone here, 'I learned my lesson; no, no, no, we cannot do that again."