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Romney Gathers Hill Allies

GOP Candidate Plans Strategy With Party Stalwarts in Congress

Mitt Romney and Congressional Republicans moved last week to jump-start the coordination of political and policy messaging after Rick Santorum’s exit from the GOP presidential primary crowned the former Massachusetts governor the presumptive GOP nominee.

Senior Romney campaign officials are expected to be in constant communication with Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and their staffs, as well as with other GOP leaders and key rank-and-file Members who supported the governor early on in the primary campaign.

Communication between Capitol Hill and a party’s presidential nominee are standard, but Romney’s camp and his backers had been frustrated by having to put such coordination on hold as Republicans waited for the volatile primary to conclude.

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), who led Romney’s Member-endorsement whip operation, said the goal now includes building relationships between Congressional Republicans and the nominee and his team so that the two groups are prepared to collaborate effectively beginning in January 2013 — if the governor defeats President Barack Obama in November. Blunt, the GOP Conference vice chairman, is expected to serve as a major conduit between Members and the Romney campaign.

“I’m trying to work to see that people involved in the campaign develop relationships with Members of the House and Senate — and particularly senior staff,” Blunt said Thursday in a telephone interview. “It will be very helpful if there’s a Romney administration.”

From Romney’s Boston campaign headquarters, Policy Director Lanhee Chen and Political Director Rich Beeson are expected to play crucial roles with Congressional Republicans. Chen, who met with House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) during a recent visit to Capitol Hill, is expected to handle policy outreach. Beeson is likely to handle political outreach, particularly to Members running in swing districts and states targeted by Romney.

In the House, the campaign is expected to communicate closely with Boehner; McCarthy; Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), who endorsed Romney in March when the candidate was still struggling to eliminate his GOP rivals; and Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (Wis.), who backed Romney ahead of the April 6 Wisconsin primary. Ryan’s efforts helped Romney win a contest that effectively knocked Santorum from the race, and the Wisconsin Republican is considered a top-tier vice presidential pick.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Utah), a conservative stalwart who has been an important Romney surrogate, will continue to play a large role in communicating the governor’s message and helping his campaign build relationships with House Republicans. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (Texas), who has been helpful to the campaign in the Lone Star State and on judiciary issues, also is expected to maintain a key role.

In the Senate, the campaign will work diligently with McConnell, Blunt, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.) and Republican Conference Chairman John Thune (S.D.), who runs the messaging operation for Senate Republicans. Thune’s early endorsement provided Romney with conservative credibility ahead of January’s Iowa caucuses, which Romney narrowly lost to Santorum. Thune, a potential Romney running mate, also was scheduled to be in Colorado on Saturday to campaign for the governor.

Additionally, Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.), a tea party freshman elected in 2010 who backed Romney just ahead of the Wisconsin primary, has been tasked by McConnell with coordinating with the campaign.

Chaffetz emphasized that the Romney campaign and Congressional Republicans will not always share the same political message or policy agenda. But he said that maintaining open lines of communication would prevent either camp from being blindsided and ensure that a positive relationship flourishes. “Every [House] Member has something in common with Mitt Romney: They’re both going to be on the ballot together,” Chaffetz told Roll Call. “They have a shared political interest.”

Romney has yet to win the 1,144 convention delegates needed to close out the GOP presidential primary — and former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) have declined to drop out of the race. But Romney is far enough ahead in the delegate race that Gingrich and Paul are not viewed as viable challengers.

Santorum, the former Pennsylvania Senator, was the only Romney rival seen as capable of derailing the governor — a prospect that dried up following his loss in Wisconsin. His exit from the race allowed Congressional Republicans, many of whom had previously endorsed Romney anyway, to stop treading lightly out of deference to the other candidates. It has also freed up GOP leaders to overtly and directly promote Romney and coordinate with the campaign.

The inability to do so had left House and Senate GOP leaders concerned that Obama would use the prolonged primary to strengthen his political position. The Romney campaign was equally concerned about appearing presumptuous, leading his campaign and its Congressional supporters to keep coordination to a minimum.

“This really creates that opportunity to unify and present a more focused message,” Thune said.

The Romney campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

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