Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (CNN) – South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Mitt Romney's most prominent tea party supporter in the state, responded to some of the group's harsh criticisms of the former Massachusetts governor on Monday.
Her response came at the first-ever statewide tea party convention in the Palmetto state – one day after some speakers urged activists to unite against Romney. In one disturbing example, an activist showed an image of a seal hunter gleefully surrounded by dead seals in bloody waters.
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"The Tea Party must join behind one candidate or Romney will win the nomination and Obama will win," a caption read.
After speaking to convention-goers, the first-term Haley – who won with strong tea party support - spoke with reporters and was asked about the anti-Romney sentiments among tea partiers.
"Well, first of all I have great support for the tea party. I have always loved the fact that they understand the power of their voice. And they understand the importance of getting involved," Haley said. "What I also can tell you about the tea party is that they are not a party. They are Republicans, Democrats and independents who have had enough with Washington. And no member of the tea party will vote in a bloc because someone tells them to. ..You are going to see them very divided through this as they go to decide who is best for them."
Haley endorsed Romney in December. She was asked how will she convince many tea partiers to come around to Romney.
"I will go and I'll give them the reasons why I'm with him," Haley responded. "You know I'm with him because this is the man that knows the value of a dollar. I'm with him because he is not part of the chaos that is Washington D.C., which I think is everything that is toxic. I am with him because he's actually created jobs. He knows what it's like to be on the other side of the table."
"Everything that I know that I need in a partner in the White House is Gov. Romney."
Haley's defense of Romney highlights a deep rift between tea partiers who support the presidential candidate, and those who don't.
A recent CNN/ORC International poll showed that among tea party supporters, Romney received 31%, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich 22%, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum 20%, Texas Rep. Ron Paul 11% and Texas Gov. Rick Perry 8%.
But that high level of support for Romney was not apparent at the two-day tea party convention, sponsored by the Tea Party Patriots and the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition.
Later Monday, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul are slated to speak.
On Sunday, Houston-based activist Apostle Claver took to the stage and urged activists against supporting "wishy-washy" Republicans who he criticized as "RINOS" – or "Republicans in Name Only," a derisive phrase many conservatives use against those they deem not conservative enough.
Afterwards, Claver told CNN he was talking about "Romney and his ilk." Claver also admitted he is a Gingrich supporter.
But by far the most disturbing example of the anti-Romney bias at the gathering was seen during a speech by Texas-based activist Michael George – who also supports Gingrich.
While speaking to the crowd, George blasted Romney, claiming the candidate would not make serious spending cuts if elected president and still defends "Romneycare," the health care law passed in Massachusetts under Romney's term.
"There's only one person who can beat Obama in debates and that's Newt Gingrich," George said. "Romney's going to lose to Obama…That's my view."
While speaking, George showed the large image on two projection screens. About a dozen dead seals lay lifeless in bloody waters, with a seal hunter grinning in the middle of the image.
The caption read: "If the seals had joined, they could kill the hunter. They were divided and he clubbed each to death."
It continued: "The Tea Party must join behind one candidate or Romney will win the nomination and Obama will win."
A few convention goers were seen walking out as the image was shown. CNN caught up with one of them.
"I was told that they were not supporting a candidate - that we would make our own choices. And that we're wise enough to make those choices after we hear them," Florence Moulder said. "And for somebody to get up there and support one candidate, it's not right."
"I don't want somebody filling us with negative. We need positive," Moulder added.
–Follow Shannon Travis on Twitter: @ShanTravisCNN