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2016 Talk Shadows Romney in West Virginia

2016 Talk Shadows Romney in West Virginia

By Adam O'Neal - August 19, 2014

BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Mitt Romney is a notoriously punctual man. Whether it's lunch with the president, or a campaign rally in the Mountain State, the former Republican presidential nominee makes sure he’s on time.

It came as no surprise, then, that Romney appeared onstage with Rep. Shelley Moore Capito (who’s running for the U.S. Senate) and two other congressional candidates at almost exactly 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, the scheduled start time for the rally.

After quick remarks from state Sen. Evan Jenkins -- who is challenging Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall in a close race -- Romney took the microphone amid sustained applause and chants of “Mitt! Mitt! Mitt!”

Romney Cracks Wise About Obama, Congress 

The former Massachusetts governor went straight to work, quieting the energetic crowd of about 450 so he could begin speaking.

“This team here, this is the team that’s going to represent West Virginia in Washington. Let me tell ya,” he said. “And they’re going to stand for coal. … I’m proud to be here and stand here with them today.”

Though he praised the candidates, Romney focused most of his remarks on President Obama -- attacking his foreign and domestic policies. Romney asserted that “that the president not being able to understand” Russia, Iraq, and Syria is “very sad. It’s tragic.”

“He’s also not known what to do to put people to work in this country. He’s been president for six years and yet he hasn’t been able to get the job done,” he continued. “And this team does know what to do.”

Romney, ever mindful of time, wrapped up his stump speech in just five minutes.

He came to West Virginia to do what he’s been doing this whole election cycle: raise money and campaign with his favored Republican candidates. He enjoys boosting others, and he’s made clear that he has no intention of running for president again.

But Romney just couldn’t escape chatter about 2016 while in Beckley -- and it wasn’t just Washington insiders inquiring about his aspirations.

After he left the stage and made his way into the crowd, a sizeable group swarmed him. Plenty of attendees took selfies with the rally’s star -- clad in slim-fit jeans and a patterned shirt -- and shouted praise for him. One woman simply told him, “Mitt, you were right.”

Howard Kellogg -- a registered Democrat who said he “mostly” votes Republican these days -- told RCP that he came to the rally because his wife likes Capito. But he’s a Romney fan who was disheartened to see Obama re-elected.

Romney won every West Virginia county in 2012. No other presidential nominee has achieved that feat in the state’s history -- a fact the candidates assembled next to him Tuesday were happy to point out.

But his strong showing here in the presidential election didn’t stop the campaign team for Capito’s opponent, Natalie Tennant, from going on offense against Romney. Tennant’s camp described him as “Coal’s Public Enemy #1” in a press release.

“The fact that [Rep.] Capito would align herself with someone who believes coal ‘kills people’ just to make a quick buck shows how quickly she will turn her back on West Virginia,” said Tennant spokeswoman Jennifer Donohue in a statement.

After working his way through the crowd, Romney slipped into a room with Capito to take questions from reporters. If he has missed retail politicking, he certainly didn’t seem to long for more time with the media.

At the start of a 10-minute press conference, a reporter asked Romney to “contextualize” his 2003 comments about coal plants killing people.

“Actually, I’m not running for anything. So I don’t have to worry too much,” he replied. “Fortunately, [Capito] has her own positions. She doesn’t have to accept all of mine.”

He added that during both of his presidential campaigns, he “made it very clear that I’m a friend of coal.”

Another reporter asked if he would run in 2016, and Romney showed little patience for the question. “I’ve actually answered that one a lot of times. I’m not running there. I’m expecting to be getting behind a good person who will be.”

And what about the polls that show he would beat President Obama in a rematch?

“Well, wouldn’t that be nice,” he joked.

He listened intently as Capito spoke -- not unlike the way he focused on his GOP rivals’ remarks during their myriad debates in 2011-12 -- and then disappeared out the back door a few minutes later.

These midterms, it appears, are only the beginning of Romney playing the role of star surrogate. Asked by another excited rally attendee to run, he replied, “I’m going to be helping somebody in 2016. I’m not sure who it is yet.”

Adam O'Neal is a political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at aoneal@realclearpolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter @RealClearAdam.

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