Even without his name at the top of the ballot, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is hoping his coattails will extend through the 2014 election cycle, when he plans to campaign and raise funds for congressional candidates.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see him out on the campaign trail. He's already received a lot of requests to help candidates and party committees, especially on the fundraising side. Even though Mitt has ruled out another run for elective office, he wants to do what he can to help the party grow and become stronger,” he said.
An often controversial figure and occasionally awkward campaigner, Romney may not always give the best stump speech. Some of his more controversial comments in 2012 caused Republicans running in blue states — namely Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Linda McMahon in Connecticut — to distance themselves from the top of the ticket.
At one point in the 2012 cycle, some Republicans fretted that Romney could cost the party seats down-ballot.
But even after a loss, and the months of blame he endured for the GOP’s poor performance in 2012, his star power within the party still remains, as evidenced by the extended standing ovation he received at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference.
And he raised more than a billion dollars for his bid, an historic feat and an asset Republicans will need in their pursuit of the Senate majority and to maintain House control in 2014.
President Obama has proved a formidable fundraising force for the Democratic House and Senate campaign committees, pledging to hold 14 fundraisers for congressional Democrats and bringing in millions at those he’s already done.
A National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman said the committee would welcome Romney’s support, but there’s no indication that he’s yet planned similar fundraisers for the Republican committees.
Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney during his 2012 bid, outlined three ways in which he expects Romney to help the candidates he endorses: “He can help them tap into his network, help them raise resources and help bring attention to their campaigns.”
“He would be an asset to any campaign, especially to a Republican running in a contested primary,” Williams said, noting that Romney’s support of South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley in the 2010 GOP primary helped boost her to a win.
Williams, who is currently consulting on House and Senate races, said some of his candidates had asked him how to get in touch with the former governor to ask for his support on the stump.
It’s unclear whether Romney will look to take sides in a contentious primary again, however, as that’s a risk with minimal reward, as Peter Ubertaccio, political science professor at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, warned.
“He can do some serious damage to his own brand by going and making a lot of endorsements in primaries, and having those people lose. He risks becoming persona non grata in the party,” Ubertaccio said.
He added that Romney taking a side in a Tea-Party-versus-establishment primary could ultimately hobble his own candidate, too, if the Tea Party contender used the Romney affiliation to frame his opponent as a stale member of the “old guard” against which there has been much backlash coming out of the 2012 elections.
Indeed, Romney is the face of that old guard, and anywhere he gets involved, he risks opening up Republican contenders to attacks used against him in 2014, GOP strategist Ron Bonjean said.
“Democrats will definitely tie Romney's statements to the current candidate, depending on the exposure level that Romney gets in each district or state,” he said. “I think he'll probably play very well in districts and states that went for Romney in the last election, but it’s unlikely that he'll play in these swing districts where Obama won or came close to winning.”
But the Republican path to taking back the Senate winds through exactly those states, ones that Romney won in 2012 but Democrats currently hold. Romney’s 2012 political director, Rich Beeson, cited Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas in particular as seats held by Democrats but won by Romney with a double-digit lead.
“He's still got a significant number of votes in every one of those states,” Beeson said. “He brings an ability to motivate a part of the electorate that I think will be helpful in 2014.”
Romney also won North Carolina, Alaska, South Dakota and West Virginia in 2012, all states in which the GOP hopes to pick up Senate seats this cycle.
Romney could help galvanize frustration against Obama and his policies, acting in a role similar to the one he took on in 2012. And he could help turn out moderate Republicans that might otherwise stay home during midterm elections.
“There are people who are going to say he was speaking truth about that on the campaign trail. And people still think he has a significant amount of credibility on these issues," Beeson said.
But in the afterglow of the 2012 campaign, both Romney and his wife Ann have made it clear they enjoyed very little of the campaign trail.
It’s clear Romney feels more comfortable elsewhere, and as Romney has made it clear that he has no plans to run for the presidency again, the goodwill built up by his 2014 engagements will offer him very little concrete return in the long term.
But Ubertaccio points out that party heads traditionally reward their own, even those who have fallen from grace due to multiple losses, if their own shows sufficient commitment to the party’s future.
Ubertaccio cited President Bill Clinton’s appointment of losing Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale to the Japanese ambassadorship in the 90s as the sort of reward given to a party faithful who does good work for his fellows.
“I suspect he's not looking for a future political career, but if he can heighten his profile and create a lot of goodwill within his party then it wouldn't surprise me, if a Republican is elected in 2016, that there would be a role for someone like Mitt Romney,” he said.