Throughout term as governor, Romney prepared for 2008 run
BOSTON -- You could consider the ticket punched for 2008.
Mitt Romney left office this past week after four years as governor, but in reality, he spent more than half of that time preparing for the presidential campaign he formally launched on Wednesday -- the day before his term expired.
Between 2003 and 2007, Romney presided over some major political accomplishments, all of which will serve as the foundation for his White House campaign.
Now, as he looks forward, he can talk about providing universal health coverage for the country -- as he did in Massachusetts. He can talk about working in a bipartisan fashion -- as he did in Massachusetts, especially in passing the health care law. He can talk about closing budget deficits and reining in government spending -- as he did in Massachusetts. And he can talk about taking care of a new crop of veterans -- as he did in Massachusetts.
But the record also shows that Romney's focus was nearly always over the horizon, and from early on.
First, Romney formed the Commonwealth PAC, a so-called "leadership" committee, on July 6, 2004, just 18 months after taking office. White House aspirants use such committees to raise money and travel the country, dispensing checks to local candidates in key presidential states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.
Romney used his federal PAC, as well as state affiliates he established, to raise and spend $8.75 million during the most recent election cycle. That was virtually identical to the amount raised and spent by Sen. John McCain of Arizona. He, like Romney, has formed a presidential exploratory committee and is an all-but-announced candidate for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.
Second, Romney spent his final year in office serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association. That group is dedicated to supporting Republican candidates for governor, and this fall it fielded candidates in the 36 gubernatorial races across the country.
Democrats ended up winning 20 of those races, shifting the nation's gubernatorial majority to their party from the GOP, but Romney has focused on the record $20 million he raised for his candidates. He was especially generous dispensing that money in Iowa, Florida, Michigan and other early presidential voting states.
Less noticed was how Romney positioned himself for the chairmanship. By tradition, the group's vice chairman ascends to the top post, so Romney had to work throughout 2004 -- again, before the first half of his term was over -- to secure the vice chairmanship for 2005. That guaranteed he would be chairman in 2006, a high-publicity election year.
Finally, there was Romney's attendance record during his final year in office -- one-quarter of his term.
In 2004, while Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., was running for president, Romney was a persistent critic and one complaint was the time Kerry was spending out on the campaign trail. Romney accused Kerry of neglecting his responsibilities to the state of Massachusetts.
"The senator has been virtually MIA for the past two years," Romney said of Kerry in August 2004. At the time, Kerry was a member of the minority party in a 100-member chamber.
Yet in 2006, while Romney was chief executive officer of Massachusetts, he spent all or part of 219 days outside the state, based on a Boston Globe review of his public schedules. Most of his travel was on behalf of the RGA or the Commonwealth PAC. He acknowledged his travel would have been even more intensive had he not had to cut back to deal with the aftermath of a Central Artery tunnel collapse in July.
Romney often explained that his work for the RGA paid indirect benefits to the state by enhancing his stature and clout in Washington. He also said that in an election year, it was only logical that a politician would stump for people who share his governing philosophy.
But both explanations were strained by his travel schedule in December, which came after the midterm elections, after his tenure as RGA chairman ended and during his final month in office. In total, Romney was in Massachusetts all or part of only four days.
Among his journeys was an eight-day trip to Asia, which Romney paid for himself to avoid questions about personal politicking on the state tab. During his time home, two of his handful of public appearances were to light the state Christmas tree and the state Menorah.
On Dec. 22, he left the state for the final time in the year, for a 10-day vacation at his home in Utah. He said the main topic of conversation would be whether to forge ahead with a presidential campaign.
Romney provided the answer Wednesday, when he filed his presidential papers.
Eric Fehrnstrom, who served as gubernatorial communications director and now works for Romney's presidential committee, disputed that Romney's governorship -- his only stint in elective politics -- was a ticket to be punched en route to a presidential campaign.
"Governor Romney has a string of accomplishments from his term in office, from health insurance to all our citizens, to getting the economy back on track, to improving test scores for our kids, to instituting reforms throughout all of state government," Fehrnstrom said in a statement.
"He is also a leader in the national party, and was increasingly called upon to help fellow Republicans around the country," Fehrnstrom added. "The fact he was a busy man doesn't mean he wasn't committed to the job of being governor. You don't get the type of results he did without being fully engaged."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)