Likely Republican presidential candidates Tim Pawlenty and Mitt Romney are quietly but aggressively wooing Members of Congress for endorsements and political support in campaigns that have yet to officially take flight.
The field of potential GOP candidates is crowded. But Minnesota’s Pawlenty and Massachusetts’ Romney appear to be among the most active in recruiting Members’ support. Each former governor has a small team on the ground in Washington, D.C. The team responsibilities include building the foundation for extensive backing among Congressmen and Senators, particularly those who serve in the early primary states, once their candidacies become official.
“I’ve been trying to make connections and offer opportunities to my friend, Tim,” said Rep. Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.), who along with House Education and Workforce Chairman John Kline (R-Minn.) constitutes Pawlenty’s de facto whip team. “I really want to do whatever I can to help him. Part of that is introducing him to people.”
Coordinating efforts for Romney is Drew Maloney, CEO of Ogilvy Government Relations and an old Capitol Hill hand. Team Romney expects to receive significant support from many, though not all, of the Members who endorsed his 2008 presidential bid. A key component of Romney’s strategy for maintaining old connections and cultivating new relationships has been to generously donate through his Free and Strong America Political Action Committee.
Like Romney and several other potential Republican presidential candidates, Pawlenty prodigiously contributed to GOP Members and candidates during the 2010 cycle, through his Freedom First PAC. But an important part of Pawlenty’s strategy has been to steadily build relationships with Republican Members he believes could be helpful in a crowded and competitive primary.
According to a knowledgeable source, Pawlenty’s aim has not just been to accrue endorsements, but to open lines of communication with both the important Republican Members from the early caucus and primary states as well as those viewed as political and ideological leaders generally — regardless of the role their states play in the nominating process. Along these lines, Pawlenty identified Rep. Jim Jordan last year as a rising conservative star and began trading calls with the Ohio Republican.
Jordan is now chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. Pawlenty has also established a relationship with freshman Rep. Sean Duffy (R-Wis.), who is set to introduce the Minnesotan at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. Duffy won in a historically Democratic district last November.
“It’s not all about endorsements, at least to us,” said one Republican operative who is aiding Team Pawlenty. Instead, it’s about conversations that put a “network in place” should the campaign be successful. Among the Republican operatives assisting Pawlenty are former Rep. Vin Webber (Minn.) and consultants Phil Musser and Terry Nelson, who last cycle advised the National Republican Senatorial Committee.