July 06, 2014, 06:00 am
Mitt Romney's 2014 renaissance
By Cameron Joseph
Mitt Romney is looking to keep his sterling endorsement streak alive as the 2014 campaign transitions from primary to general election season.
The former GOP presidential nominee has a perfect record after getting involved in a number of competitive Republican races this year. Now, with Senate control on the line and his party eager to add to their House majority, he’s turning his attention to helping many of those same candidates in tough fall battles.
Free from the pressures of daily life in the spotlight, Romney has undergone a latter-day renaissance, rebuilding his public image after a brutal 2012 campaign.
Two years later, he’s being welcomed on the trail with open arms as one of his party’s most sought-after surrogates. Republican candidates and strategists salivate over his fundraising prowess and seem less and less worried about potential baggage from appearing with him.
“As an elder statesman in the party, he's able to endorse good, conservative candidates that can win. For too long the party has been without someone who can help the most conservative candidates who can win a primary and still win the general,” said Ryan Williams, a former Romney aide who is now working former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, now running in New Hampshire.
Romney stumped with Brown on Wednesday in the Granite State, just the latest in a crowded schedule of campaign events. He’s already headed to more than a dozen states to help the GOP, from New York and California to Idaho and Michigan.
The former Massachusetts governor has endorsed 33 candidates this election cycle, including many facing competitive primaries. So far, not a single one has lost.
The prodigious fundraiser has held about two dozen campaign and fundraising events for those candidates and the national party, including major fundraisers for the Republican National Committee, National Republican Senatorial Committee, National Republican Congressional Committee and Republican Governors Association.
And he’s not done yet. Sources close to Romney say he’s in the midst of scheduling another round of campaign trips for his allies heading in mid- to late-August.
With his presidential hopes gone, Republicans say Romney is able to help boost candidates without regard for his own political fortunes. He’s repaying allies and helping the party wrestle down candidates the GOP establishment believes could cost them seats and hurt their national brand.
His deep fundraising network, maintained by former Romney finance chairman Spencer Zwick, remains a powerful weapon for the GOP. Candidates and committees have also taken advantage of renting his robust email list, Targeted Victory, for online fundraising.
Strategists say Romney may not be universally beloved, but say the stench of the 2012 campaign has mostly faded. They also point out that he won most of the states and districts the 2014 campaign is being fought in, particularly with red-state Senate seats the GOP hopes to flip.
Even though his primary appeal may be to donors and not voters in the general election, he’s still playing a critical role for a party that lacks someone with the star power of a President Obama or Hillary Clinton.
“He's a tier-one fundraiser,” said one national GOP strategist whose organization has benefitted from Romney’s help in recent months. “His skill is primarily fundraising.”
Romney was one of the first big-name Republicans to back Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst in her come-from-behind primary victory. He helped boost her struggling fundraising and low name recognition to give national Republicans the candidate they wanted in the open seat race. A number of Romney’s past Iowa staff are involved in Ernst’s campaign.
“Romney got behind Joni before anybody did, back in February, back before anyone else had endorsed us, before the squeal ad or anything,” Ernst spokeswoman Gretchen Hamel said. “He got out early behind Joni and did bring some attention to her.”
He also played a big role in helping Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) slay his Club for Growth-backed Tea Party challenger. Romney came into the heavily Mormon district for fundraisers and campaign rallies, and cut an ad for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to boost Simpson’s campaign.
“We are proud to have worked closely with Gov. Romney in Idaho and the Iowa Senate race,” Chamber political director Rob Engstrom told The Hill in an email. “His support for American free enterprise speaks for itself.
Democrats are still trying to reuse some of their old playbook against Romney, attacking the blue- and purple-state candidates who have appeared with Romney. But most privately admit that Romney can raise big money and won’t be their main boogeyman this fall.
“There are some states he's been a liability in, but not nearly as much as the Republican candidates themselves are,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Justin Barasky. “Joni Ernst is a bad fundraiser and Mitt Romney can provide her a boost. But she has a whole host of problems he can't fix.”
Romney’s flurry of events come as his numbers have improved and President Obama’s have sunk. A recent poll from Quinnipiac University found that 45 percent of voters thought the country would be in better shape had Romney beaten Obama, while 38 percent disagreed.
“The fact that candidates are so eager to be endorsed and supported by Gov. Romney show that he's much more popular than he was even a year ago. He's an elder statesman, serious, sober with gravitas in the party and he's really taken up the mantle of elder statesman,” said Williams.
All that activity has led to some buzz about Romney running for president one more time. But he’s repeatedly ruled out a third presidential bid, and those close to him dismiss the notion.
“I'm crossing my fingers but I don't think that's likely,” Williams laughed. “He's pretty emphatic in ruling that out.”