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Mitt Romney to blitz Hill in search of lawmaker support

October 26, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey
(Darren McCollister / Getty…)

Mitt Romney is having something of a coming out party on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.

The Republican frontrunner for president is in town raising money and recruiting lawmakers as he tries to sew up his status as the inevitable nominee.

Romney is slated to start the morning with a major fundraiser at the American Trucking Assn.’s headquarters, a conference center a couple of blocks from the Capitol. The invite list includes a long list of lawmakers and lobbyists. Later in the day, he’ll visit his campaign office in Fairfax, Va., a short jaunt across the district line, and then back to the Hill for a meet-and-greet with members still sitting on the fence.

The former Massachusetts governor is also expected to attend an evening gala at the Republican National Committee.

Lawmakers report that the Romney campaign has been kicking the courtship into high gear, a marked contrast to other campaigns that seem to be more laissez-faire when it comes to wooing elected officials.

But for Romney, racking up endorsements is a key goal. Each is used as a signal that the party – long reluctant to embrace the former blue-state governor – is coming around. On the Hill, he’s made a particular effort to court conservatives who might boost his credentials with the base – with some success.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, a North Carolina Republican and member of the conservative Republican Study Committee, got on board last week. Reps. Virginia Foxx, (R-NC), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) – all reliable conservatives – have also signed up.

By the Romney campaign’s count, it has support from 25 House members and four senators – Tim Risch of Idaho, Thad Cochran of Mississippi, Orrin Hatch of Utah and Roy Blunt of Missouri. The list easily beats his rivals. Romney’s recruitment event on Wednesday will include roughly 50 lawmakers who still count themselves in the undecided category, according to one Romney backer.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s campaign has taken a lower key approach, lawmakers say. Perry has won handful of endorsements, including that of Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina freshman who has been advising the campaign and acting as a liaison on the Hill. Also on the list is a fellow Texan, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, No. 4 in the House leadership.

But Perry, who is an unknown to many Republicans, has largely stayed that way.

Unless, of course, they represent some political hotbed, like, say New Hampshire. Rep. Frank Guinta, a freshman and former Manchester mayor, says he’s averaged about a call a week from a presidential campaign. Guinta met privately with both Romney and Perry this fall. Romney went out to lunch with Guinta and his 8-year-old daughter.

That personal time speaks to the importance – or perhaps perceived importance – of locking up endorsements in the early primary states. Guinta said he and his fellow early-state representatives compare notes regularly about the candidates.

“We talk about how they’re doing in each state, how they’re being received, how they’re interacting with voters. It helps. It’s good information,” he said, noting that he takes his endorsement seriously and will make it carefully. “I’d like to see a candidate who is capable of winning a general election.”

It is those early-state nods that seem to be the hardest to get. Romney’s list of endorsements doesn’t include any lawmakers from New Hampshire, Iowa or South Carolina.

Tom Hamburger of the Washington Bureau contributed to this report.

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