Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has become a regular fixture in Congressional Republican circles in recent months, transitioning from many GOP lawmakers’ top presidential pick in 2008 to their top economic adviser.
Romney and his close Congressional allies insist that his Capitol Hill relationships have been struck out of a mutual goal of pushing the GOP’s economic agenda. But Romney’s frequent presence, paired with his remarks in his recent speeches, seem to point to a familiar strategy — one that made him Congressional Republicans’ early favorite for the 2008 presidential nomination. Romney failed to fulfill his ambition last year to reside at the White House but is widely viewed as a top contender for the job in four years.
“Mitt Romney and Members of the House Republican caucus are kindred sprits who share a commitment to conservative principles,— Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said. “They are all of a like mind when it comes to the pro-growth policies that will get our economy moving again.—
Fehrnstrom said Romney speaks frequently with Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) after the two hit it off in August while serving on the Republican “truth squad— at the Democratic National Convention in Denver.
This friendship ultimately led to Romney’s participation in the GOP’s economic working group hearing on Jan. 15 and in a press conference via phone after the first House economic stimulus vote.
“I think it was ironic that on the very day that we were having those discussions … Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi [D-Calif.] and Congressional Democrats came out with their own version of the bill before having received any input whatsoever from Republican Congresspeople and Republican leadership, and I think it really does indicate that there is a very different [standard] being set by the president than the reality that we are seeing executed by Congressional leadership,— Romney said during the press conference.
Rob Collins, Cantor’s deputy chief of staff, said Romney’s ability to create buzz on the national stage will help House Republicans get their message heard in places that it may not otherwise reach.
“He can break through in places that we can’t as someone who rather successfully auditioned to be the leader of the country,— Collins said. “The national media pick up what he’s doing.—
Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Romney is a natural go-to, citing his stature as a former presidential candidate and his knowledge of economic policy as a former businessman.
“I think we are out there saying, how can we find solution, how can [House Republicans] find ideas’ … [and] as people come up with ideas, they become more of a figurehead — so that’s an offshoot of people participating in our working group,— McCarthy said.
Romney also has worked closely with former presidential rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and has spoken with him several times in recent months — even having dinner once in New York after the November elections.
Romney’s friendship with Members is hardly new. By the time he dropped out of the hunt for the GOP nomination, he had received more endorsements by GOP lawmakers than any other candidate.
Even after he returned to being a private citizen, Romney continued to support Members of the House and Senate through his Free and Strong America Political Action Committee. In 2008, Romney’s PAC donated $184,714 to House Republican candidates and $46,398 to Senate candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Most recently, Romney donated $1,000 to House Republicans who had been attacked by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for their votes against the economic stimulus bill.
Romney also has remained a headliner at major GOP events off the Hill. In January, he was a keynote speaker at the GOP retreat at the Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va. He will also headline the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s April dinner.
“Gov. Mitt Romney is one of the most respected and trusted voices in the Republican Party today,— NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh said. “Throughout his career, the governor has demonstrated that he has the vision and ideas to help move America forward. We expect he will generate a great deal of enthusiasm for this year’s spring dinner and look forward to his keynote address.—
However, despite his popularity among Republicans and his occasional shots at the Obama administration, Romney remains coy on his plans for 2012. Asked about his future at the Republican House retreat, Romney said he was not looking past 2010.
“I don’t know that I can forecast that length of time,— he said. “I’m just one of the members of the team and do my best to help out in close races … I want to help out along with many other Republicans. As to the future beyond ’10, we’ll have to wait and see.—