Romney Rides High
A Mormon from Massachusetts wows social conservatives.
Monday, September 25, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
WASHINGTON--Right now John McCain is the front-runner for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination. But everyone expects that a single major competitor will emerge to challenge him from the right. The question hung in the air of this past weekend's Family Research Council summit in Washington: Who will that candidate be for the GOP's powerful social conservative base?
FRC officials says they invited Mr. McCain to speak, but he declined. But another potential candidate benefited greatly from showing up. Surprisingly, it was Massachusetts' Gov. Mitt Romney, a Mormon with a Harvard M.B.A who governs the nation's most liberal state. The 1,800 delegates applauded him frequently during his Friday speech and gave him a standing ovation afterward. Mr. Romney detailed his efforts to block court-imposed same-sex marriage in the Bay State and noted that the liberal Legislature has failed to place a citizen-initiated referendum on the ballot. He excoriated liberals for supporting democracy only when they think that the outcome is a foregone conclusion that favors their views. He certainly picked up fans at the summit. "I believe Mitt Romney may be the only hope social conservatives have in 2008," says Maggie Gallagher, author of a book defending traditional marriage.
The tall barrier many see as blocking his acceptance by evangelical voters--the fact that many Americans view Mormonism with suspicion or worse--may prove to be a mirage. "Everyone I talked to said they didn't have a problem with it," one attendee told me. "If enough people say that to each other, Romney creates a virtuous circle in which evangelical activists decide he's acceptable."
Interesting . . . very interesting. One recent GOP activist who tried to take Romney's Mormonism to task in South Carolina was viewed as very bad taste. Fund later continued.
[Romney] impressed three separate and distinct audiences in Washington last week in a 24-hour speaking blitz. On Thursday about one out of eight House Republicans came to hear him address a weekly luncheon hosted by Rep. Jack Kingston of Georgia. Mr. Kingston told the Boston Globe that Mr. Romney made a very positive impression and was clearly positioning himself for the role opposite Mr. McCain that Mr. Allen once occupied.
Immediately afterward, Mr. Romney went across town to address a group of K Street lobbyists and economic conservatives. "He was impressive in explaining how he governed as a conservative in Ted Kennedy's home state," said columnist Robert Novak. The next morning, Mr. Romney appeared before the Family Research Council's summit. "He won over a lot of people when he recalled how as a businessman he had rescued the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City," says Chris Butler of Americans For Tax Reform.
That experience helped solidify Mr. Romney's reputation as a can-do manager who knows how to delegate. "He is the only elected official I've met with who gave me a detailed power-point briefing on my area of expertise," says Bob Moffit, a health-care expert at the Heritage Foundation who worked with Mr. Romney to craft a law mandating that everyone in Massachusetts buy health insurance.
I've seen that powerpoint presentation at the Heritage Foundation's website. Romney quickly masters various areas of expertise (I also remember how he spoke and diagrammed like an engineer during the Big Dig crisis and how well versed he was in his press conferences during the Mass flooding a few months back)
But Mr. Romney also has many advantages. He is perhaps the only candidate who can plausibly claim a base in several states. He has a contributor base in Massachusetts; a large reservoir of political goodwill in Michigan, where he was born and his father served as governor in the 1960s; and the loyalty of many Mormons in Utah and neighboring states. He has a built-in corps of volunteers and contributors in any state where Mormons, the fastest-growing religion in America, have a real presence.
And then there is the charisma and poise that Mr. Romney seems to exude naturally. "Many people say he certainly looks like a president--sort of a cross between Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy," says Genevieve Wood, who founded the conservative Center for a Just Society. Anyone who draws comparisons to those political genes merits further watching.
That's not the first time I've heard the Reagan comparison. This WSJ writer has it right . . . Romney's on the Rise!