While it didnt help him win the White House in 2008, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) has continued to maintain close contact with his one-time House GOP backers and put a premium on their needs for 2010 as he weighs his next move.
And it appears a possible rival for the 2012 presidential nomination, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R), may be stealing from Romneys playbook.
Romney, who lost the 2008 presidential nomination to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), has kept up a full campaign-like travel schedule and donated to Republican candidates through his Free and Strong America political action committee. But Romney has also managed to remain a fixture on Capitol Hill.
In addition to speaking regularly with Members, Romney has had a public role to play as well. He participated in the House GOP economic working group hearing in January and was a featured speaker at the first and only town hall meeting of House Minority Whip Eric Cantors (R-Va.) National Council for a New America.
One GOP source said Romneys Hill relationships and network of former campaign staffers should give him a strong advantage should he decide to run for the White House again.
Pawlenty has to start from scratch, the GOP source noted.
Kevin Madden, managing director of public affairs at the Glover Park Group and former Romney 2008 campaign aide, said candidates new to the national stage typically try to tap into already-established networks. The House Republican Conference is a natural place to turn for Romney, who secured 46 Congressional endorsements in 2008.
When you start out and are looking to establish yourself as a national candidate, Madden said, it is important to try and plug in to already-established political networks or organizations.
Pawlenty, for his part, may be taking some cues from Romney. While Pawlenty has been coy about his ambitions, he tipped his hand slightly last week when he announced plans to form the political action committee Freedom First. And the Minnesota Republican has spent months crisscrossing the country to give speeches and attend fundraisers for GOP candidates in states including Florida, Arkansas, Illinois, California, Virginia, Ohio and Michigan.
While Pawlentys involvement with Congressional Republicans has been somewhat limited so far he attended the House Republican retreat in Hot Springs, Va., in January several GOP sources said they expect the Minnesota governor to ramp up his involvement as the 2010 midterm elections near and as his PAC gets off the ground.
Congressional endorsements are part of the presidential campaign process. And while they do little to tip the scales with voters, endorsements can serve as momentum builders, particularly in the early stages of the campaign. Plus, Members can help candidates fundraise and can serve as key surrogates for a busy candidate.
Romney, who captured the most Member endorsements during the primary campaign, has continued to relentlessly campaign for Republican candidates in the months since. In 2008, he held 34 fundraising events for House and Senate Republicans.
I think Mitts focused squarely on what needs to happen in 2010, said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who supported Romneys presidential bid in 2008. I would think hes mulling possibilities in 2012 and all of those types of things, but you know, Mitts very strategic.