November 4, 2006
BOSTON–The conclusion of the gubernatorial race in Massachusetts and midterm elections across the country will end one campaign but ignite another, and Gov. Mitt Romney is primed to step back into the state spotlight and onto the national stage as well.
Come Tuesday, the Massachusetts Republican will, for all intents and purposes, complete his yearlong stint as chairman of the Republican Governors Association and come home to wrap up his term as governor. He’s already announced he will make his final judicial appointments Wednesday.
Shortly after Romney leaves office in January, he’s likely to announce he will run for president in 2008, based on the governor’s own publicly stated timetable and private conversations in recent weeks with some of his top advisers.
And the outlines of a White House campaign are already visible.
Over the course of the past year, through his own work and the misfortune of others, Romney has emerged as perhaps the top alternative to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the leader in early polling assessing potential 2008 Republican presidential contenders.
One potential rival, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is fighting just to win re-election next week, while another, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, was outpaced by Romney last spring during a straw poll among evangelicals meeting in Frist’s home state of Tennessee.
All the while, Romney has traveled the country, sprinkling RGA cash on candidates participating in the 36 gubernatorial campaigns nationwide. He has especially ingratiated himself with those running in states that will hold pivotal presidential voting.
In Iowa, which kicks off the process with its presidential caucuses, he dropped off a $500,000 check. In Florida, an electoral-rich Southern state, he handed over $1 million. And in Michigan, a key swing state, the RGA contributed $1 million even though its candidate, Dick DeVos, has an Amway fortune and has already thrown $16 million of his own into his race.
Romney was in Michigan again yesterday, stumping on behalf of DeVos.
While there has been media speculation Romney would base a presidential campaign out of Michigan, his birth state, his closest aides say that is untrue.
Romney’s political action committee, the Commonwealth PAC, is already established in Boston, and his closest advisers have homes and families in Massachusetts. Most important, aides say, is that Romney’s own home is in Belmont, and among the 59-year-old’s favorite things is to return to his house at the end of a run of campaign travel.
Romney and his staff have been bringing potential staffers to Boston in recent weeks for interviews, a process that is expected to accelerate as early as Wednesday, when a flood of political talent hits the market after the midterms.
The governor broke ties with his former chief political consultant, Mike Murphy, at the end of 2005, and over the course of this year has been able to audition and size up potential replacements as he has bounced between the gubernatorial races.
Romney has already begun expanding his operation by hiring such Republican veterans as Barbara Comstock, a former Justice Department spokeswoman and expert opposition researcher, and Ann Woods Hersberger, the former finance director for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has joined the staff of the Commonwealth PAC.
The committee staff will also soon expand with the addition of Peter Flaherty, Romney’s current deputy chief of staff, and other members of his Statehouse staff who are poised to depart the government payroll and join the workers already assembled at offices in Old City Hall.
The end of Romney’s term will also mean the end of some of the trappings of office he has enjoyed, such as a policy staff, a state police escort that speeds his travel and the guarantee of media coverage from a press corps working just down the hall. Yet his aides say they are working to minimize the effects of his return to private life.
The “advance” staff that has set up Romney’s travels is already transitioning to the political action committee, and his stature as a former governor and national figure from his work heading the 2002 Olympic Winter Games should allow him to demand a degree of media coverage. He has already been profiled in British papers and is a regular on the Fox News network.
Meanwhile, Romney has established a policy staff under Sally Canfield, who was a top domestic policy adviser to George W. Bush during his 2000 White House campaign, and the governor’s aides say substance will be the key to ensuring he remains in the public eye after making his final walk down the Statehouse steps in early January.
In 2002, when Romney came back to Massachusetts from Utah and declared he was going to run for governor, he built a following with a series of PowerPoint presentations that outlined his plans for the state.
His staff is already at work on similar policy initiatives for foreign issues such as the Iraq War and domestic matters, including alternative and renewable energy.
Don’t expect Romney to fret about global warming should he forge ahead and make his run for president. But in the next phase of his political career, according to one aide, he may have something to say about how to free the nation from the grips of Middle Eastern oil barons.