In Iowa, Tea Party activist Ryan Rhodes said he has a ‘‘really good clothespin.’’ That would be for his nose, he said, when he votes for Mitt Romney in November.

Grass-roots conservatives said Wednesday they would reluctantly get behind the former Massachusetts governor now that he has all but sewn up the Republican nomination for president. But their enthusiasm level is low, if not flat-lined, as Romney begins the general election task of rallying the party and energizing a skeptical conservative base — even as he seeks to broaden his appeal to more moderate, independent voters.

‘‘His base was suspicious of his conservatism to begin with, so he needs to be more cautious about moving to the center,’’ said Stephen Hess, a strategist who has advised Republican and Democratic presidents. ‘‘The party politician who moves to the middle does it with a wink: ‘You know where my heart is.’ In this case, people don’t know where his heart is.’’

Romney’s pivot to a general election footing, including any new shifts on issues and his vicepresidential pick, will be closely monitored by Tea Party followers and fundamentalist Christians. These conservative groups could play a decisive role in such Southern swing states as North Carolina and Virginia.

Continue reading →