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Some senior Republican operatives and current and former elected officials in early primary states who backed Mitt Romney in 2012 will not immediately line up behind his potential third presidential run, saying they first want a full look at a GOP field shaping up to be much stronger than that of four years ago.
In just the past days, Romney has said for the first time he is considering another White House bid and his subsequent calls to longtime allies across the country about a potential candidacy have jolted the 2016 Republican nomination process. But the early indications are that while Romney would emerge as a strong contender, he would face a much more crowded and uncertain primary field than he did in winning the nomination in 2012.
While Romney’s past supporters are unified in the view that he would be a good president if elected, they are not all sure he is best candidate to take on the heavy Democratic favorite, Hillary Clinton.
“He would be an outstanding president,” said Brian Kennedy, who was the chairman for Romney’s 2012 Iowa campaign and said he had spoken to several of the potential Republican candidates over the last few months. He declined to answer when asked if Romney had reached out to him over the last few days.
“I could certainly see myself doing that [backing Romney again]. But at this time, I’m uncommitted. We don’t know who the field is yet,” Kennedy added.
Mary Kramer, who was the chairman of George W. Bush’s Iowa campaign in 2000 and who was on Romney’s leadership team in the Hawkeye State in 2012, said, “I think he’s extremely qualified, but I will just wait and see.”
She specifically noted that former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has “strong credentials.”
Other Romney supporters echoed that sentiment. "I think the world of Mitt Romney. If Jeb weren't on the ballot, he would be a near lock to be the Republicans' nominee, and he is still probably either a favorite or among the favorites," said Brian Ballard, who was Romney's finance co-chair in Florida in 2012 but said he will likely back Bush in 2016. "If they both choose to run, it's a good thing for the Republican Party."
Kelly Ayotte, the New Hampshire senator who endorsed Romney early in the last cycle, similarly praised Romney while being non-committal, telling reporters on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, “I think he's going to be a strong candidate, but, you know, I think we're going to have a very vigorous field here as you've seen."
These comments came as Romney continues to take steps toward gauging support for another presidential run. He is scheduled to speak at a meeting of the Republican National Committee on Friday in San Diego, giving the potential candidate a chance to meet with some of the party’s leaders and core activists.
Romney has spent the past few days reaching out to former staff members, donors and supporters, as well as people who didn't support him last time in 2012.
"He's doing what he does well - and that's due diligence," an adviser close to Romney said.
So far, even as some key party officials are not yet committing to him, Romney is receiving a very strong reception within the Republican Party, particularly considering how sharply he was criticized in the wake of his 2012 defeat to Obama. Many Republicans now argue Romney ran a strong campaign in 2012 against long odds, since Obama was an incumbent.
“He’s got the right ideas, he’s got common sense. He had the right numbers, even though people criticized him for it,” said former Iowa state legislator Dave Kahn, who served on Romney’s leadership team in 2012. He was referring to Romney’s controversial remarks that 47% of Americans pay no income taxes, rely heavily on the government for financial help and therefore support Obama and Democrats.
“I’ve been a supporter of Dr. Carson, but if Romney ran, I would like to see him, with Carson as vice president,” Kahn said.
In New Hampshire, two of Romney’s top advisers in 2012, Tom Rath and Jim Merrill, have said they will back Romney again, as has State Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley.
“He would be a great president,” said Bradley. “Overall, he ran a good campaign, and in New Hampshire, people who voted for Obama in the general election have told me if they could do it again they would vote for Mitt.”
One view shared by both those who are non-committal and those who are strongly behind Romney for 2016 is that his two unsuccessful runs do not matter. They argue Romney will be a stronger candidate because of his previous two campaign and that American voters aren’t tired of him.
“Running three times doesn’t bother me,” said Saul Anuzis, a Romney backer in 2012 who used to head the Michigan Republican Party.
“I think that is clearly something that is doable. The real question is the mood of the country,” said Anuzis, who said he decided recently to endorse Ted Cruz after Romney’s brother Scott, who lives in Michigan, assured Anuzis that Mitt Romney would not run in 2016. “There’s no doubt in mind that Mitt Romney would make a good president. The question is ‘would he be a good candidate’ and I’m honestly not sure about that.”
Charlie Bass, a former New Hampshire congressman who endorsed Romney in the last race, said “I don’t think you can characterize him as a perennial candidate. Bob Dole ran three times.”
“I wouldn’t suggest Romney running three times is any kind of disqualifying factor,” added Bass. “I think he’s a good, viable candidate. But I have not yet had a chance to talk with Governor Bush. We’ll see what happens.”