Most GOP govs shun Romney
By: Charles Mahtesian
Feb 2, 2008 08:51 AM EST
As chairman of the Republican Governors Association in
2006, Mitt Romney crisscrossed the country to elect
GOP governors and broke the groups fundraising record
by hauling in $20 million.
Yet just two of the 16 governors he worked to elect
then are supporting his presidential bid.
In fact, just three of the nations 22 Republican
governors have endorsed him.
There are plenty of reasons that might explain the
former Massachusetts governors surprisingly weak
support among his former colleagues. But one of them
stands out: He appears to have inadvertently alienated
a good many of his fellow governors as RGA chairman.
Right or wrong, the general impression was that he
spent way too much time on himself and building his
presidential organization, said a top Republican
strategist who has worked closely with the RGA in
recent years. I dont think anyone ever questioned
Romneys commitment to the organization or the work he
put in. They questioned his goals or his motives. Was
it to elect Republican governors, or to tee up his
A campaign manager for an unsuccessful 2006 Republican
gubernatorial campaign echoed the sentiments. We
definitely got the vibe from the staff that our state
was never a national player when it came to the
strategy that the RGA was putting together, he said.
Everything they were telling me was about Michigan.
They were dumping everything into Michigan.
For Romney, his inability to win over the governors he
worked closest with has proven costly. On the eve of
Tuesdays crucial primary in Florida, Gov. Charlie
Crist announced his support for John McCain despite
the fact that Romney, as chairman of the RGA, had
greenlighted a $1 million check to Crists campaign in
McCain won Florida by 36 percent to 31 percent over
Romney. And the exit polls found that 42 percent of
the voters said the popular governors endorsement was
very important or somewhat important.
On Thursday, two more big-state governors who were on
the 2006 ballot, Arnold Schwarzenegger of California
and Rick Perry of Texas, lined up behind McCain.
Schwarzeneggers decision came just days before
California Republicans vote in this Tuesdays primary.
Perry switched to McCain after his first endorsed
candidate, Rudy Giuliani, ended his campaign.
Altogether, six of the 16 Republican governors elected
or reelected in 2006 are backing McCain. South
Dakotas Michael Rounds is supporting Mike Huckabee.
Nebraskas David Heineman and Rhode Islands Donald
Carcieri are behind Romney. But the rest of the class
is sitting it out, having declined to endorse anyone.
One reason, said a Republican consultant familiar with
the thinking behind some of the governors decisions,
is that Romney rubbed some governors the wrong way
during his tenure at the RGA.
Everything seemed to have strings attached to it,
the consultant said. If they were going to make a
donation, they wanted a quid pro quo like an
endorsement or a donor list or a volunteer program.
Theres no interest like self-interest in politics. So
when [governors] think their political lives are in a
do-or-die situation, thats not the time to offer help
with strings attached.
Phil Musser, a Romney supporter who served as his RGA
executive director, says Romneys dearth of
gubernatorial support is less revealing than it
appears. With his peer governors, he is very popular
and well-liked, Musser said. There wasnt much
grousing from anyone.
Instead, Musser points to a variety of factors that
might have led some governors to sit out the
presidential primaries the volatility of the GOP
field, the reluctance of newly elected governors to
take sides and deference to Huckabee, who was familiar
to many of them as the former chairman of the
nonpartisan National Governors Association.
The fact that very few new Republican governors were
elected in 2006 due to the gale-force Democratic
winds, Musser said, also accounts for the low number
of Romney supporters.
Part of it is the widespread, scattered nature of the
field, part of it is that no one wants hurt feelings,
and part of it is decisions made about self-interest,
said Musser, now a Republican consultant.
Still, with just three governors behind him the
little-known Heineman and Carcieri, and Missouris
Matt Blunt, who recently announced he would not seek a
second term Romneys base of support stands in stark
contrast to the impressive roster assembled in 2000 by
then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush, who had 24 governors
And Romneys thin list of gubernatorial supporters
pales when compared with some of the heavyweights
aligned with McCain, including Minnesotas Tim
Pawlenty, who was elected to a second term in 2006 and
is frequently mentioned as a vice presidential
prospect, and Indianas Mitch Daniels, who served a
stint as President Bushs budget director.
McCain also has the backing of Utahs Jon Huntsman
Jr., who represents a heavily Mormon state where
Romney is exceptionally popular.
Beginning in 2005, McCain, who has spent his entire
political career in Congress, made a concerted effort
to line up gubernatorial support in anticipation of
his 2008 run. He met with nearly every incumbent
Republican governor, and campaigned and raised money
for them and for other Republicans running for
governor in 2006.
We were always asking what we could do for them
which, compared to what was going on at the RGA with
Mitt Romney running for president, was a welcome
relief, said John Weaver, a former McCain strategist.
If they had a need, we were there to fill it.
Campaigns, like football games, are often won by what
happens in practice.