Romney Continues to Court House GOP
While it didn’t 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 Romney’s 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 Cantor’s (R-Va.) National Council for a New America.
One GOP source said Romney’s 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 Pawlenty’s 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 Mitt’s focused squarely on what needs to happen in 2010,— said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), who supported Romney’s presidential bid in 2008. “I would think he’s mulling possibilities in 2012 and all of those types of things, but you know, Mitt’s very strategic.—
Romney’s advisers wouldn’t discuss the one-time Massachusetts governor’s ambitions, but assured he would continue to stump for the GOP in 2010.
“I don’t know what the future holds for Mitt Romney in terms of a future campaign, but I do know he was very gratified by the support he received from Members of Congress in his 2008 race and he has been busy returning the favor and helping new friends,— spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said. “He did close to three dozen events for House and Senate candidates last year, and he’s going to be even more active in the next cycle.—
But one GOP Member who supported Romney in 2008 said Romney may not be able to count on the same level of Congressional support in his next race.
“There’s some real concern about whether or not he kind of has shot his wad, that’s it, he gave it all he had, nice try,— the Republican lawmaker said. “If I thought he could do it, I’d be right back there but I don’t think he can.—
The 2012 field is wide open. In addition to Romney and Pawlenty, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin are among those Republicans most often mentioned. Even GOP Conference Chairman Mike Pence (Ind.) has been named as a possible candidate.
And while Romney leads the pack when it comes to cultivating relationships on the Hill, Pawlenty, who was frequently mentioned as a possible McCain running mate in 2008, has recently started to make it a priority. That includes meeting with House Republicans and traveling across the country to speak at state party and campaign events.
National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) sat next to Pawlenty at the Ohio Republican Party’s annual state dinner earlier this month and said he was impressed by the Minnesota governor’s keynote speech.
“I thought he gave a sharp, crisp speech with clear delineation of what he stands for, and he is very interested in being a national party leader,— Sessions said. “He is trying to be a national party leader and he’s a good message down.—
Alex Conant, spokesman for Pawlenty, said his boss has an immediate goal, and it’s not the White House: “Gov. Pawlenty is very focused on the upcoming election, 2010, and electing Republicans who will govern as conservatives.—
Conant added that Pawlenty’s travel has been in part related to his position as vice chairman for the Republican Governors Association.
But if Pawlenty does make the 2012 race, Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) said he’s got at least one House backer. Still Kline insisted that Pawlenty’s early outreach to the Hill shouldn’t be misinterpreted. “He’s traveled around, he’s helping other Republicans, he’s trying to build the party so he’s being very, very helpful,— Kline said. “As far as him reaching out to me or to any other Republicans to say, I’m trying to build a base support for a run for president,’ he hasn’t done that with me.—