Ex-aides to Romney pop up in races across the country

In at least six crucial races around the country, veterans of the former Massachusetts governor’s presidential campaign are working to guide new candidates to victory.

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It may appear a simple case of political professionals moving to new clients, but Romney’s team has kept in close contact should a second presidential campaign come to fruition.

That could pay off, said Claremont McKenna political scientist John Pitney. By having staffers on the ground, Romney is building what Pitney calls “an informal intelligence network” that can feed information back to the former Bay State governor.

“With all his friends involved in campaigns around the country, it’s an excellent way for him to pick up anything that’s going on in Republican-land,” Pitney said.

Though Romney has aided dozens of candidates and state parties, some in his team are wooing candidates who do not have establishment backing.

Four top Romney aides who still advise the governor have established the Shawmut Group, a consulting firm based near Boston. Romney’s former campaign manager, Beth Myers, joined traveling press secretary Eric Fehrnstrom and deputy campaign managers Peter Flaherty and Rob Cole.

The group has signed on to aid former U.S. Ambassador Tom Foley (R), who is running in a competitive primary to face Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.); state Sen. Scott Brown (R), the leading Republican contender in the special election to replace the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) in Massachusetts; and former Rep. Rick Lazio (R), who is running for governor of New York.

Brown has become the top Republican in the Bay State after former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card and former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey made clear they would not run.

But in Connecticut, national Republicans and many established groups around the state are most interested in supporting former Rep. Rob Simmons (R), who leads recent primary polls. Still, Foley, who served in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq and later as ambassador to Ireland, is off to a strong fundraising start.

Fehrnstrom says the group formed at the end of the Romney campaign once the four realized they could do more for Republican candidates. And, he added, it should be no surprise that a number of former Romney staffers go on to other campaigns.

“I view national campaigns as breeding grounds for political talent,” Fehrnstrom said.

Elsewhere, former Romney advisers are involved in a Senate race in New Hampshire that pits an insurgent against an establishment favorite. Charlie Spies, Romney’s chief  financial officer, and Jim Merrill, Romney’s New Hampshire campaign manager, are helping businessman Ovide Lamontagne (R) explore a bid for retiring Sen. Judd Gregg’s (R-N.H.) seat.

Lamontagne would likely run to the right of former Attorney General Kelly Ayotte (R), the candidate national Republicans are most excited about. Lamontagne will host a birthday party next week that will double as a fundraiser, stoking speculation that he will challenge Ayotte next year.

Meanwhile, one former Romney backer has stocked her campaign with veterans of the presidential race. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, a member of Romney’s national finance committee, has hired half a dozen top Romney aides to assist her campaign for California governor.

Whitman has hired Spencer Zwick, Romney’s finance director, as well as Karen Hammond and Jennifer Cowen-Fitzgerald, two other Romney fundraisers. Rob Stutzman, a senior adviser to Romney’s California campaign, and Western regional political director Todd Cranney are also on Whitman’s team, as is former Romney deputy press secretary Sarah Pompei.

Political professionals do move on to other campaigns, and their continued involvement is not always an indication of their loyalty to a previous employer. But Romney’s team is somewhat different, given the former governor’s recent actions.

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Though he says repeatedly that he is focused only on the midterm elections in 2010, Romney is doing his part to stay atop the minds of GOP activists. He won a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference the last weekend in February. He has blasted President Barack Obama’s approach to the economy and to foreign policy, most recently in a major address at the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Romney will highlight the Saturday morning session of this weekend’s Values Voters Summit, hosted by the Family Research Council. Before the speech, he will hold fundraisers for his political action committee in Washington and for Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, who is running for reelection.

And his team continues to keep in touch with former top advisers like Indiana attorney Jim Bopp, the prominent anti-abortion rights activist who served as a special adviser to the campaign.

“I think he is positioning himself for another run by helping with the Republican comeback,” Bopp said in an e-mail to The Hill. “We welcome his help and hope all candidates with this ambition do the same.”

Pitney called Romney’s work on behalf of down-ballot candidates similar to that of Richard Nixon in the early 1960s. After losing to President John Kennedy, Nixon campaigned relentlessly for Sen. Barry Goldwater (R-Ariz.) and Republicans around the nation, putting him in position to win the GOP nomination — and the White House — in 1968.

Romney’s behind-the-scenes work has paid off; a recent poll of New Hampshire voters showed 50 percent supported the former governor. Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee came in second in that poll with 17 percent each.

Meanwhile, Romney-land, as insiders call it, still has a few paid employees. Zwick earned $23,000 in July, according to reports filed with the Federal Election Commission, and has helped Romney’s Free and Strong America political action committee pull in $2.1 million so far this year. Shawmut’s four principals also count Romney as a client.