Mitt Romney Starts Quest for Suitable Hill Staffers

Posted June 18, 2012 at 5:48pm

In the long and drawn-out Republican presidential nominating contest, Mitt Romney has been slow to embrace an unpopular Congress in his bid for the White House — and vice versa. Now, that all looks like a thing of the past.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has been holding high-profile
appearances with GOP leaders, and his campaign is ramping up its legislative
affairs branch.

In a move that bolsters his conservative credentials on Capitol Hill, the former Massachusetts governor has been quietly picking off Congressional Republican staff, most recently a top aide to Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).

Romney also took onboard three principal aides to House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who campaigned with Romney in Wisconsin on Monday and whose fiscal 2013 budget is sure to be a major flash point in the campaign against President Barack Obama.

Erica Suares, who since 2009 has been a legislative assistant to DeMint, became the newest member of the Romney campaign Monday, joining as a deputy director of legislative affairs, according to an email obtained by Roll Call.

“I’m really looking forward to this new opportunity, and getting to still work with many of you!” Suares wrote, announcing her hire in an email to Congressional staffers. “The job will be in Boston and D.C. so I’ll be back and forth for the next few months.”

Although it is not uncommon for Capitol Hill staffers to disembark for campaigns, particularly in a presidential election year, the hires show a willingness by the Romney campaign to embrace staffers tied to the conservative movement’s brightest stars.

The Romney campaign did not return several requests for comment.

The move boosts Romney’s legislative affairs team, headed by another former Congressional staffer, J.T. Jezierski, as he tries to unite Members of Congress behind the GOP candidate following a long and bitter primary.

There has long been skepticism among conservatives about the idea that Romney is one of them, and some worry that he could take too much of a moderate tack in the general election.

Hiring a staffer to DeMint, a tea party kingmaker and one of the Senate’s most staunchly conservative Members, will certainly help with Romney’s outreach to Capitol Hill’s tea party contingent.

“This is a hugely positive development and should give conservatives great hope for the direction of the campaign,” an aide to a conservative House Member said.

Before joining DeMint’s staff, Suares worked on Senate affairs for the Heritage Foundation and spent brief stints in President George W. Bush’s administration and the Senate Republican Steering Committee, according to her LinkedIn page.

The Romney campaign also stacked its ranks with budget experts in a pre-emptive counterstrike against Democratic attacks on the Ryan budget. Three Republican House Budget Committee aides, including the committee’s policy director, made the leap to the campaign recently.

Jonathan Burks, the policy director, joined the campaign team along with Stephen Spruiell, a senior adviser and Matthew Hoffman, a budget analyst.

Ryan appeared with Romney at a campaign event Monday in his hometown of Janesville, Wis., along with Gov. Scott Walker and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus, formerly the state’s Republican Party chairman.

Romney is a “bedrock of principles” and a “moral compass,” said Ryan, who is widely considered a frontrunner in Romney’s search for a vice presidential candidate.

The appearance was part of a tour of swing states, which also featured Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a one-time presidential candidate.

Romney has endorsed the Ryan budget, and should he pick the plan’s architect as his running mate, the attacks on the budget will be unavoidable. But even still, Democrats have taken to branding the fiscal blueprint as the “Romney-Ryan budget” and have frequently charged that it “ends Medicare as we know it.”

Even following the Monday appearance, Obama’s rapid-response messaging team blasted the duo in an email, stating that Romney would “rubber stamp the Ryan budget.”

Romney also held his first campaign event with Speaker John Boehner in the Ohio Republican’s district over the weekend. Even throughout the contentious GOP primary, Boehner had been thought to back Romney, but the two men had not yet appeared together since Boehner officially endorsed.

And now that Boehner is stepping out with Romney, he is also shipping staff to the campaign.

Romney hired David Stewart, a policy adviser to the Speaker, earlier this month.

Other GOP leadership aides have headed to the campaign, as well. House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy’s (Calif.) communications director, Sarah Pompei, became the campaign’s deputy communications director in April.