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Romney Endorsement Wins Add Up as Iowa Return Looms

Romney Endorsement Wins Add Up as Iowa Return Looms

By Scott Conroy and Caitlin Huey-Burns - May 29, 2014

Few would have predicted it after he lost to President Obama 19 months ago, but Mitt Romney looks to be a Republican kingmaker in 2014.

So far this year, he has endorsed candidates in a half-dozen GOP primaries -- and all six have won.

Romney’s sustained and surprising relevance in these intra-party battles has even fueled some of the chatter about a potential third White House run for the two-time presidential also-ran.

But while Romney, now 67, has categorically dismissed any such suggestions, his impressive recent track record in backing winners has epitomized the widespread success the establishment wing of the GOP has had lately against the Tea Party faction.

And with a slate of endorsements lined up in competitive primaries next month, he is just getting started. 

On Friday, the former Massachusetts governor will appear at his first public events of the 2014 cycle when he headlines a pair of rallies for Senate candidate Joni Ernst in Iowa.

Though he often uses sports analogies on the stump, it is unlikely that Romney will mention his 1.000 batting average this year -- after many of his fellow Republicans discounted his relevance to the party’s future.  

Those around him say that Romney’s current focus remains squarely on future office-holders, not his own legacy.

“He doesn't think in those terms,” Eric Fehrnstrom, a longtime Romney confidant said when asked whether his former boss felt vindicated by the string of 2014 successes. “He wants to help elect good conservatives to replace the Obamacare Democrats in Washington and put this country back on the right path where we have more good jobs, a health care system that works and a restored leadership position in the world.”

Several of the beneficiaries of Romney’s support have longstanding ties to the man singing their praises. In California’s 25th District primary, Romney endorsed former state Rep. Tony Strickland, who co-chaired both of his presidential bids in the state.  

And earlier this week, he gave his official backing in New York’s 21st Congressional District to Elise Stefanik -- who worked as an aide to 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan -- ahead of the Empire State’s June 24 primary.

Romney also has favored candidates who share his background in business. He has endorsed Goldman Sachs veteran Neel Kashkari, for instance, in Tuesday’s California gubernatorial primary.

But the Golden State is where Romney’s streak appears likely to end. Both Kashkari and Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly trail incumbent Democrat Jerry Brown by more than 30 points, but Kashkari spokesperson Jessica Ng said that Romney’s support has been instrumental in boosting the long-shot candidate’s name recognition.

“Neel is very grateful, especially because he is still working very hard to introduce himself to Republican voters,” Ng said. “Having someone well respected in the Republican Party provides some credibility.”

In Oregon, Romney endorsed and recorded robo-calls for victorious Senate candidate Monica Wehby in a crowded GOP primary, which provided “a huge boost to our campaign right as voting by mail began,” according to campaign manager Charlie Pearce, who was a staffer on Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.  

“Everywhere we went after that, people would come up to us and say, ‘Mitt gave me a call and told me to vote early for you,’” Pearce said.

Wehby -- a pediatric neurosurgeon who garnered negative attention in the days before the May 20 election, as two accusations of harassment surfaced -- faces an uphill battle against incumbent Democrat Jeff Merkley, who has Elizabeth Warren campaigning for him this week.

Wehby’s win came on the same night that Romney-backed Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson easily beat back a primary challenge on his way to a nearly certain general election victory in his safe Republican district.

With the midterm general elections now only five months away, it’s not just candidates in contested GOP races who are asking for Romney’s support.

Earlier this week, Romney headlined a fundraiser for Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman, who is facing a general election fight against Democratic state House Speaker Andrew Romanoff in what is expected to be one of the most competitive House races in the country.

But for the time being, the upcoming June primaries are Romney’s area of focus.

His public reemergence this week will come in Iowa -- a state that held particular significance in his two failed presidential campaigns and where his ties to the Republican political community run deep.

He gave his backing to Ernst in the crowded Senate primary back in early March --weeks before the state senator unveiled her memorable “castrating hogs” ad and at a time when she trailed in her bid to become Iowa’s first woman elected to federal office.

Ernst has since been endorsed by a long list of groups and individuals, ranging from the Chamber of Commerce to Sarah Palin, and has become the frontrunner to take on Democratic Congressman Bruce Braley in November. 

Though she is currently polling under the 35 percent threshold required to avoid a runoff after Tuesday’s primary, Ernst has built an 8.6 percent lead over her nearest GOP rival, according to the latest RCP average of polls.

Iowa Republican strategist David Kochel -- who was Romney’s point person in the nation’s first voting state in 2012 and has been a booster of Ernst’s Senate bid both in public and behind the scenes -- predicted that Romney’s visit four days before the election will be a significant boon in the eastern part of the state and in other areas where the former presidential candidate remains particularly popular.

“On the final weekend of the campaign, having someone of Gov. Romney’s stature in Iowa helps to cut through the clutter of TV ads and mailers and brings real focus to the race,” Kochel said.

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Scott Conroy and Caitlin Huey-Burns

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