Romney eyes 2008, sets sights on conservatives
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.