(CBS News) TAMPA, Fla. - In a booth overlooking the stage Thursday at the Republican National Convention, where Mitt Romney would soon appear to accept the party's presidential nomination, Rep. Michele Bachmann was smiling. Once a viable challenger for the ticket and a mouthpiece for many of the values with which Romney long struggled to connect, the Minnesota congresswoman was doing a "victory lap" for the tea party.
Through all three nights of prime time here, the name of the movement that helped pilot the party to victory in the midterm elections two years ago wasn't mentioned once, even by early tea party favorites like Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rand Paul, R-Ky. Heroes of the insurgent group pushing limited, constitutional government and reined-in spending - like Bachmann, former candidate Herman Cain, and 2008 VP nominee Sarah Palin - were passed over for speaking slots.
As the tea party began to attract rallies numbering in the thousands in 2010, some Republicans voiced worry that their party was becoming factionalized. When the wave of GOP freshmen elected to Congress that year began successfully blocking bipartisan bills they felt contrasted their value of fiscal responsibility, that division became real.
But Bachmann, who along with Cain held a "Unity Rally" on Sunday night that attracted hundreds of supporters waving the tea party's signature "Don't Tread On Me" flags, said she sees it as a good thing that the main-stage speakers didn't have to go out of their way to acknowledge the movement.
"We succeeded in having those principles enshrined in our platform, and it went as smooth as soft butter," she said. "This hasn't happened before. This is why we really need to take a victory lap, because we've seen our principles, not only in the platform just to have words, but they've been embraced by Mitt Romney and also [vice presidential nominee] Paul Ryan. ...And I think that's what we have to be even more grateful for, isn't words; it's the concepts and principles."
Speaking earlier with CBS News, Cain said he was "not surprised" the grassroots movement embraced wholeheartedly by his own campaign was not specifically addressed on the convention's main stage. "The tea party citizens' movement is not about rallies and visibility; it's about working below the radar to get results," he said.
"What a lot of people don't know is that a lot of these delegates and alternatives are 'tea party' people," Cain continued. "So when you become a part of the Republican Party, you don't need to make a big deal about the designation tea party movement."
But Romney's path to winning tea partiers' hearts has been mostly uphill. The wealthy former business executive penned, as governor of Massachusetts, what President Obama called the blueprint for the very health care law that inspired the tea party uprising. Repelled by his "establishment" exterior, the movement tried on almost every other candidate - from Bachmann to Cain to Newt Gingrich - before reluctantly settling on Romney. Some still haven't.
Texas delegate Sandra Ojeda Medina said she's supported Romney since 2008, but added some convention-goers were upset that her state's congressman, Ron Paul - an icon for the movement's message before it was a movement - wasn't featured more prominently. "But on the other hand, Ron Paul is on the other side of the moderate Republicans, to the left," she said. "And for the convention they want to find those people who truly are in line with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. The platform isn't a place for dissension; it has to be unified."
Bachmann said as far as she's concerned, Romney's proven himself under the pillars of the big tent, including the tea party.
"I made front and center the full scale repeal of the president's health care plan, and Mitt Romney has embraced that position," she said. "That's the distinct contribution that I made in this race, was making that a front and center issue, so I take a lot of credit for that and I credit all the tea party for making this happen. Never would have happened without all the people across the United States pushing this."
Neither Bachmann nor Cain said they were disappointed not to be offered a prime time slot this week. Bachmann said she was "extremely proud" of the lineup the party put forward. "But I've been speaking all over, because I'm on the team," she said. "I'm a part of this great team to take the country back, and that's what I care about more than anything else."