As Charles Mahtesian reports from Politico, one of the many small issues that have added up to Mitt Romney’s probable failure to win the Republican presidential nomination is the cold shoulder he’s gotten from GOP governors, among whose ranks he recently served.
It’s actually a factor that might have been a pretty big deal. In 2000, George W. Bush benefitted from being the consensus choice of the conservative movement and the K Street crowd. But in terms of his credibility as a “reformer with results,” and his electoral heft in primary states, it certainly mattered that 24 fellow Republican governors endorsed him.
Mitt has a total of three governors on his endorsement list, none of them exactly household names: Heineman of NE, Carcieri of RI, and Blunt of MO (who’s retiring this year). McCain has six, including such biggies as Ah-nold of CA, Crist of FL, and Perry of TX. True, the other former governor in the race, Mike Huckabee, has just one: Rounds of SD. But given Mitt’s money, organization, and recently acquired conservative-movement street cred, his poor standing among governors is surprising. Hell, he hasn’t even been the beneficiary of the obligatory David Broder column about the superior qualifications of governors for the White House.
What makes this phenomenon even more remarkable is that Romney chaired the Republican Governors’ Association during the 2006 election cycle, which put him in the position of raising and spending a record $20 million to support the campaigns of many of the chief executives who now spurn his own candidacy. But in fact, says Mahtesian, Romney may have turned this political asset into a liability, by tilting RGA expenditures and publicity towards his own agenda for 2008:
“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 don’t think anyone ever questioned Romney’s 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 presidential campaign?”
Any way you slice it, the Mittster really screwed up on this front. It’s enough to note that if Charlie Crist had possessed enough regard for Romney to stay neutral instead of endorsing John McCain–or for that matter, if Jeb Bush had liked him enough to endorse the candidate of most of his closest associates–the former governor would have won Florida, and the dynamics going into Super Tuesday might be very different.
As Barack Obama so aptly said of Romney during last week’s Democratic presidential debate, for a guy with such a rep as an entrepreneurial whiz, Mitt’s had an exceptionally lousy return-on-investment rate for the money and preparation he’s devoted to this campaign (though not as lousy as Rudy Giuliani, who spent $50 million to win exactly one delegate). His proselytizing work, financial and otherwise, among Republican govenors is another case in point.