When Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney takes to the convention stage later this week, he will be testing the waters for his political future within the Republican Party. But, while some in Massachusetts would argue he's already been running for higher office, can he wow the rest of the country?
GOP Chairman Ed Gillespie explained why he chose Romney for the plum, prime-time speaking role on Wednesday night of the Republican Convention, “Mitt is the Governor of the Democratic nominee’s home state. He can speak with authority when it comes to comparing President Bush and John Kerry."
Governor Romney has been spending his vacation both at his summer lake house in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire and at the Olympic games in Athens working on his all important six-minute speech. He said he’s been writing every morning, and it’s his wife, Ann, who is first to read his drafts.
While Romney is not giving away exactly what he will say at the podium, he said, “I will be pointing out that this is a critical time in our nation’s history, that we need strong, unwavering leadership as at other critical times in our history, and this calls for someone of President Bush’s character and capability. I respect him very much.”
Before he even gets to New York City, the Governor will have to shine on another stage at his first campaign rally appearance with President Bush.
Romney joins a small, exclusive group - that includes political heavy-weights Sen. John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Sen. Zell Miller - who will travel with the Commander-in-Chief on his campaign swing through eight battleground states before accepting the nomination on Thursday night.
The campaign’s decision to have Romney included in that esteemed group speaks volumes.
“Governor Romney is an outspoken leader who has campaigned hard on behalf of the President on a number of occasions. We look forward to having him on the trail in New Hampshire with the President during the very important week leading up to our convention,” said Scott Stanzel, Bush-Cheney ’04 press secretary.
Independent political analyst Stu Rothenberg explained the coveted photo-op showing George W. Bush with Mitt Romney. “That shows how much confidence the President has in him. Romney has two big credentials going for him: his good looks and he can testify about who John Kerry really is since he knows first-hand.”
Sights on the White House
It has been talked about for some time now within tight political circles that Romney has his own sights set on the White House. Romney dismisses the speculation and says he is staying put at the State House, even beyond 2006.
“I anticipate running for re-election. I am raising money to do that and I have selected my campaign manager for that. So I expect I will be running again in 2006,” said Romney.
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“The Republican Party has a large field of individuals who could be the [presidential] nominee [in 2008]. Jeb Bush is certainly one, but it is a long list. Bill Owens, Bill Frist, George Pataki, Rudy Giuliani, Rick Perry, George Allen: it is really an exceptionally deep field. So now it is too early to know who will have interest and who will be ready to go.”
Shannon O’Brien, the former Massachusetts state treasurer, who ran against Romney for Massachusetts Governor in 2002 and lost, tells a different story.
“When I ran against him, I stated that I felt he was not interested in serving the people of Massachusetts. He really had his eyes set on running for higher office,” said O’Brien. “If you look now at his schedule over the past several months, it makes my prediction look like its come true.”
Like it or not, Romney was already thrust onto the national stage because of his stance regarding the controversial issue of same-sex marriage. Romney fought hard to ban gay marriage in Massachusetts, but has had to support a civil union alternative. According to Gillespie, Romney will not be addressing the lightning rod issue in his speech at the convention.
The big “what if?”
Romney praises John Kerry for his service in Vietnam, but that’s about as far as the praising goes for the Massachusetts Senator.
“I think the more people have seen of John Kerry, the more they recognize why some of us from Massachusetts would prefer President Bush," said Romney. Kerry "is a conflicted person, conflicted by a wide range of view points, by special interests, and the result is that he has a hard time coming down cleanly on one side or the other of important issues.”
A scenario that makes Romney cringe is what happens if John Kerry wins in November.
That would create a rare opportunity for the state’s first Senate vacancy in two decades.
Political analysts speculate Romney would be under tremendous pressure by the national party to run for that seat because, they say, he would be the only Republican who could win in Massachusetts.
“I don’t ever let my mind go there in terms of John Kerry winning, so I can’t follow the ‘what-if’ scenario because I can not see John Kerry being the next President. I will tell you that I haven’t given any thought to who in our party would be a possible Senator were there a vacancy. But that certainly would not include me,” Romney insisted.
Romney hails from a political family. His father, George Romney, was a three-term Governor of Michigan before he ran unsuccessfully for president against Richard Nixon in 1968 - he never made it past the first primary.
Former Nixon aide, Pat Buchanan, remembers opponent George Romney fondly and gave his prediction for the younger Romney’s future. “Mitt would be a likeable, attractive VP candidate because he could possibly deliver the state of Massachusetts.”
Romney reacted to Buchanan’s prediction with a laugh. “I am sticking to my knitting here in Massachusetts.”
Veteran Republican strategist Tom Rath has spent a lot of time with Romney at campaign events in New Hampshire and calls him a star.
“Anyone who does talk about 2008, his name always comes up. He is getting noticed by the national party. They are paying close attention to him. He has done a great job as a Republican Governor in a Democratic state,” said Rath.
Entrée into politics
Romney is credited with turning around the troubled Salt Lake Olympics in 1999, which he describes as the high point of his professional career. But not financially speaking, as he opted to forgo a hefty CEO salary when he accepted the challenging job.
Romney left behind the millions he was making at Bain Capital, a successful venture capital and investment company in Massachusetts, for the snowy mountains of Utah. Now as Governor, he once again works for free, forgoing any state salary.
Gillespie joked about how perfect Romney is with an anecdote from a Red Sox game he attended with the Governor and his oldest son this May.
“I kept thinking is there anything this guy is not good at? Then in the 7th inning, they played ‘Take me out to the Ballgame.’ He sang, and I couldn’t believe he had such a great voice. He is such a good guy, with a good voice to boot!”
But the millionaire Mormon father of five sons remains humble. “There are a lot of things wrong with me. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, I am human and I make mistakes,” said Romney.
Not all praise from Massachusetts
Tom Reilly, Massachusetts Attorney General, has found some things wrong with the governor. Democratic state party chairman, Phil Johnston, confirmed that Reilly is going to run for Governor against Romney in 2006.
Although Reilly declined to comment for this article, Johnston voiced the state Democratic Party’s opinion on Romney’s faults. “He’s been a disengaged governor. He simply wants to raise his national profile, he has real national ambitions.”
By Johnston’s estimates, Romney’s wealth is “on the same level as Teresa Heinz Kerry’s,” and he is worth between $500-600 million. He cites that as a problem and says Romney, “has trouble connecting with real people.”
Stu Rothenberg speculated about what else might keep Romney off the 2008 ticket.
“Being the Governor of a state like Massachusetts, he has a problem with social issues, like abortion. I am not sure if conservatives would be really comfortable with him.”
But in the end, Romney shakes off his critics, and he’s savoring his six minutes in the spotlight, calling it “a big chance.”
“I am really looking forward to it. I am not sweating bullets,” he added with a chuckle, “I am cool as a September morn.” Actually in this case, it’s a September eve, 9:45pm ET on Wednesday, September 1st to be exact. Stay tuned.
Nina Bradley is currently a senior producer at MSNBC. Earlier in the campaign season, she was the campaign reporter traveling with Bush-Cheney for MSNBC and the NBC News political unit.