Rom­ney eyes 2008, sets sights on con­ser­va­tives

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Stephen Di­nan

Mas­sachusetts Gov. Mitt Rom­ney, who on Jan. 3 filed pa­pers form­ing a com­mit­tee to ex­plore a run for pres­i­dent in 2008, has spent re­cent months mov­ing steadily to try to oc­cupy the con­ser­va­tive ground in the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial field.

His en­try into the ranks of Repub­li­cans of­fi­cially ex­plor­ing a run for the pres­i­dency un­der­scores the strange na­ture of the field at this point — there is no can­di­date able to claim the po­si­tion of the clear con­ser­va­tive stan­dard-bearer, so all of the can­di­dates think they can win a siz­able chunk of those all-im­por­tant pri­mary vot­ers.

“The case that he’s go­ing to make is that Mitt Rom­ney has a record of gov­ern­ing that demon­strates an ex­tra­or­di­nary level of ac­com­plish­ment that will lead the coun­try to­ward suc­cess,” said a Rom­ney aide familiar with the gov­er­nor’s de­ci­sion to an­nounce the ex­ploratory com­mit­tee.

With the first pres­i­den­tial cau­cuses and pri­maries sched­uled for 12 months from now, Mr. Rom­ney and the other po­ten­tial can­di­dates are stak­ing out po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions and try­ing to show their prow­ess for fundrais­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tion.

It’s a rough-and-tum­ble game that was un­der­scored last week by a re­port in the New York Daily News of in­ter­nal doc­u­ments from Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani, the for­mer New York mayor who formed an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee for the Repub­li­can nom­i­na­tion in Novem­ber.

The 140-page dossier lists fundrais­ers Mr. Gi­u­liani hoped to re­cruit to his pres­i­den­tial bid, but many of them have al­ready been snatched up by his ri­vals for the nom­i­na­tion — chiefly Sen. John McCain, the Ari­zona Repub­li­can whom many an­a­lysts say is the man to beat.

The news­pa­per said it re­ceived the doc­u­ment from a source “sym­pa­thetic” to one of Mr. Gi­u­liani’s ri­vals, though the pa­per didn’t say which one. In it, Mr. Gi­u­liani’s team sets a goal of rais­ing $100 mil­lion to $125 mil­lion in 2007, and $25 mil­lion to $30 mil­lion of that dur­ing the next three months.

Mr. Rom­ney will take the first step to gauge how much he can raise when he holds his first fi­nance event next week. He has asked his top sup­port­ers to bring their lists of con­tacts and they will hun­ker down in the Westin Bos­ton Wa­ter­front ho­tel Sun­day night and Mon­day morn­ing to be­gin mak­ing their fundrais­ing pitch.

John C. Fortier, a re­search fel­low at the Amer­i­can En­ter­prise In­sti­tute, said the man­tle of the con­ser­va­tive can­di­date is open af­ter other Repub­li­cans, par­tic­u­larly Sens. Ge­orge Allen of Vir­ginia and Bill Frist of Ten­nessee, saw their chances col­lapse with Novem­ber’s elec­tion re­sults.

“In a nor­mal field, I think there would also be a more tra­di­tional Repub­li­can can­di­date. Look­ing at the field now, there is not a strong can­di­date in that role,” Mr. Fortier said.

He said that has left an open­ing for Mr. Rom­ney, who early in his gov­er­nor­ship seemed to stake out mod­er­ate po­si­tions but moved to­ward the con­ser­va­tive side later in his sin­gle term.

“There’s a lot of mys­tery here be­cause he’s got a lot of ways he could go, but po­lit­i­cally the place to go in the Repub­li­can field is to the right of McCain, to the more tra­di­tional part of the Repub­li­can Party,” Mr. Fortier said.

In try­ing to win those vot­ers, Mr. McCain has shed his 2000 cam­paign im­age of the mav­er­ick op­posed to Pres­i­dent Bush. In­stead he has re­cruited many of the op­er­a­tives and fundrais­ers that helped Mr. Bush win elec­tion in 2000 and 2004.

For his part, Mr. Gi­u­liani has the star power to earn him an au­di­ence with con­ser­va­tives, even though he is seen as a pro-choice, anti-gun-rights can­di­date.

Mr. Rom­ney, whose Demo­cratic suc­ces­sor was sworn in on Jan. 4, took steps in the fi­nal days to shore up his cre­den­tials as tough on il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. He signed an agree­ment with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment giv­ing state troop­ers trained for the job the abil­ity to en­force fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion laws.

He also gave in­ter­views to Na­tional Re­view On­line and Hu­man Events last month in which he tried to clar­ify his po­si­tions on abor­tion and his po­si­tion on mar­riage and civil unions.

Na­tional po­lit­i­cal polls of Repub­li­cans and Repub­li­can-lean­ing vot­ers put Mr. McCain and Mr. Gi­u­liani well ahead of the rest of the can­di­dates.

A Gallup poll taken Dec. 11 to 14 showed Mr. McCain and Mr. Gi­u­liani at 28 per­cent each, and Mr. Rom­ney in fourth at 4 per­cent, also trail­ing Con­doleezza Rice. An NBC/Wall Street Jour­nal poll put Mr. Rom­ney fourth be­hind Mr. McCain, Mr. Gi­u­liani and for­mer House Speaker Newt Gin­grich.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say Mr. Rom­ney’s ex­pe­ri­ence as a gov­er­nor is an as­set be­cause vot­ers in re­cent years have seemed to pre­fer can­di­dates with ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

He is not the first gov­er­nor to en­ter the Repub­li­can con­test — for­mer Vir­ginia Gov. James S. Gil­more III an­nounced last month he has formed an ex­ploratory com­mit­tee — but Mr. Rom­ney is well ahead of Mr. Gil­more in or­ga­niz­ing and fundrais­ing.

An­other gov­er­nor, Arkansas’ Mike Huck­abee, is con­sid­er­ing a run.

Mr. Huck­abee told the As­so­ci­ated Press that if he runs, he would ap­peal to “true con­ser­va­tives for whom con­ser­vatism doesn’t mean they’re an­gry at ev­ery­body.”

“I would be the kind of Repub­li­can who doesn’t scare the liv­ing day­lights out of peo­ple who are in the cen­ter or slightly to the left,” he said.

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