A Mormon Republican with a shock of dark hair and a winning smile is traveling the country angling for a spot in the White House, and, no, it’s not former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
Rep. Jason Chaffetz has become one of Romney’s most high-profile surrogates on the presidential campaign trail, leading sources close to the Utahn to speculate that the fiercely ambitious firebrand might have a Romney administration post in his sights.
Chaffetz and the Romney camp insist that, despite his dogged support, such talk is premature. But in interviews, neither ruled out the possibility.
“Would I consider it?” Chaffetz said. “Absolutely. It would be an honor. But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves.”
Chaffetz is no stranger to politicking. He managed Jon Huntsman’s successful 2004 Utah gubernatorial campaign, and before that, when he was a Democrat, he served as Utah co-chairman for Michael Dukakis’ 1988 presidential bid.
As a testament to his support for Romney, he notably spurned Huntsman to endorse early in the race, a decision Chaffetz said was motivated by his heartfelt belief that Romney has the best chance to beat President Barack Obama.
Now, applying his background in corporate communications, Chaffetz trails former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) at presidential campaign events in primary states to offer real-time rebuttals as one of Romney’s top spin doctors.
He has been spotted on TV promoting the candidate, at primary debates sitting behind Romney’s wife, Ann, and even outside Gingrich events publicly scrapping with the former Speaker’s press staff.
“He’s one of our strongest surrogates who has really stepped up and done everything we’ve asked of him,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said. “He’s a committed conservative, he has strong tea party credentials and he’s able to passionately describe why Gov. Romney is the strongest candidate.”
His strong tea party backing also helps him validate Romney to that crowd, a helpful role for a candidate whose conservative credentials are routinely called into question.
Whether he could parlay that kind of role into an administration post drives speculation from Utah to Capitol Hill, and that’s the way the affable, media-savvy Congressman likes it.
“Knowing Chaffetz, he never completely closes a door,” former staffer Alisia Essig said. “He doesn’t pass on these opportunities until it is the last hour. He keeps the door open; he keeps people talking about it.”
For a time, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Chaffetz would challenge GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch this year. He had experience going after a veteran lawmaker, having knocked off then-Rep. Chris Cannon in a primary in 2008.
But Chaffetz decided to sidestep an intraparty bloodbath and Hatch’s multimillion-dollar war chest and focus on electing Romney as president.
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