A sleepy Utah Senate race was always a small playing field for a former presidential nominee. Now, Mitt Romney is going national again.
After spending most of the past year quietly tending to his own race, Romney is using his formidable national profile and expansive political network to elect embattled Republicans across the country. Weeks before his virtually assured election to the Senate, the 2012 Republican standard-bearer is issuing endorsements, appearing in TV ads and fundraising for hopefuls up and down the ballot.
Story Continued Below
The burst of campaign activity is a stark reminder that the 71-year-old Romney will arrive in D.C. as much more than a typical freshman senator — and shows how he plans to use his prominence to reward allies and forge relationships.
Romney is going to bat for candidates for offices ranging from the state Legislature to the U.S. Senate. Among those getting help is Rep. Mia Love, a deeply vulnerable Republican from his own state of Utah. She recently released a TV commercial featuring Romney speaking directly to the camera and declaring: “I’ve known Mia Love for many years. I trust her.”
Romney’s push has extended from Mormon-heavy Arizona, where he traveled last week to headline a rally for Senate hopeful Martha McSally, to the Northern Virginia suburbs, where he’s donated to Rep. Barbara Comstock. He has weighed in for Utah’s entire U.S. House delegation: In addition to Love, he’s cut a TV ad for Rep. Rob Bishop, hosted a campaign event for Rep. Chris Stewart, and on Wednesday evening joined Rep. John Curtis for a phone-banking session aimed at helping the congressman turn out the vote.
Behind the scenes, other Republican candidates are reaching out to Romney for help.
“When he announced that he was going to run, I knew immediately that this is the type of candidate-slash-senator that he would be, and that he would jump into this role years ahead of what an average freshman senator would do,” said Curtis. “He’s already reaching out and being helpful to other people.”
Since launching his campaign in February, Romney has studiously avoided the national spotlight — instead crisscrossing Utah in his 2002 Chevy to introduce himself to voters. But with polls showing him with a commanding lead over his Democratic opponent, Romney has begun contemplating life in the Senate. He’s privately expressed interest in serving on several committees, including the influential Foreign Relations panel, people who’ve spoken with him say. Last week, he spoke by phone with the committee’s chairman, retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
He is also putting his political muscle behind would-be congressional allies. He recently sent a $2,000 contribution to Comstock, who faces an uphill path to reelection. Romney’s push for Comstock, who served as a policy adviser on his 2008 campaign, has expanded to his far-flung universe of former aides.
On Friday, Beth Myers and Matt Rhoades, who managed Romney’s 2008 and 2012 presidential bids, respectively, penned a joint letter on a Romney campaign alumni Facebook page pleading for help.
“As fellow Romney alumni we are both very hopeful that you will consider supporting Barbara’s reelection campaign whatever way you can, whether that be donating directly to her campaign, volunteering to knock on doors, or making calls on her behalf to the district,” Myers and Rhoades wrote.
“Barbara is committed to doing everything in her power to win reelection, and we hope that we can bring the full force of the Romney/Ryan alumni network to help her.”
Earlier last week, Bobbie Kilberg, a Northern Virginia GOP donor and Romney backer, hosted a fundraiser for Comstock at her McLean home. The event drew contributions from several close Romney allies, including Massachusetts Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman.
With Democrats flooding congressional races with cash, Romney, who remains close with many Republican givers, has worked to motivate GOP financiers who the party is relying on to level the playing field. In late August, he made an appearance at a donor retreat in Jackson Hole, Wyo., hosted by House Speaker Paul Ryan.
Much of Romney’s focus, though, has been on electing candidates running at the state level in Utah. His aides count nearly 40 Utah Republicans he’s helped, with more events and get-out-the vote activities planned for the final weeks leading up to the election.
Romney’s endorsement has been particularly valuable for Republicans running in suburban areas, where President Donald Trump’s unpopularity threatens to drag them to defeat. Love, who is running in a suburban Salt Lake City-area district, has made Romney’s support a central plank of her closing argument to voters. Romney was once a sharp critic of Trump, though he has since warmed to the president.
In a telephone interview this week, Love said Romney’s appeal had helped inoculate her against a wave of Democratic attacks.
“Mitt is a respected figure in our race. I voted for him for president, the majority of Utah voted for him for president. All of these negative ads are out there, and the ads are untrue and misleading,” she said. “Mitt going on and letting people know that he trusts me is incredibly important.”
Romney’s spadework has left some senior party officials wondering whether he’s interested in the job of National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, a position that would put him in charge of Republican Senate fundraising and candidate recruitment efforts for the 2020 election cycle. But people close to the former Massachusetts governor say he’s eager to focus on policymaking and doesn’t want to be preoccupied with the grunt work of fundraising.
Love has been taken aback by the amount of attention Romney has given her race. After wrapping up a debate earlier this week, she was surprised to find a text message on her phone from the former GOP nominee.
“You were strong, focused, and on message,” it said. “Well done. Mitt.”