In the bruising 2012 presidential race, Donovan Head was a get-out-the-vote specialist for Mitt Romney's campaign in north Florida, spending his days and nights appealing to Republicans in the sprawling neighborhoods around Jacksonville.
Up until this week, the Georgia Republican thought of Romney as the “best president we never had” despite their differences on scattered issues. That was before the Utah Republican senator’s vote to convict and remove President Donald Trump from office.
“I have lost an enormous amount of respect for Mitt Romney. I have never felt more betrayed by a politician - especially after investing countless hours of hard work supporting his 2012 run,” said Head, who was later a deputy campaign director for Gov. Brian Kemp.
In the hours after Romney’s vote, several of his top supporters in Georgia ripped into his decision to break party lines and become the lone Republican to support Trump’s ouster.
And he has quickly emerged as a toxic liability in the Republican-on-Republican race between U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler, a major donor to his 2012 campaign, and U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, who is eager to remind voters of that in his latest digital ad.
"That's right. Kelly Loeffler gave nearly $1 million to Mitt Romney. The same Mitt Romney that voted to impeach our president," the ad proclaims, as images of the two flash on screen.
The former Massachusetts governor had a deep base in Georgia in 2012. Though he lost the primary to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a longtime Georgia lawmaker, he won the state in the presidential election by eight percentage points over Barack Obama.
Among his most influential supporters in Georgia is Eric Tanenblatt, who was state chair of Romney’s 2008 bid and his national finance co-chair for his 2012 campaign.
He’s among the Republicans who praised Romney for the difficult decision, saying that the senator “put to bed this week any question whether he was a man of profound conviction.”
“The tremendous inventory of pressures — from considerations of simple convenience to measuring the high personal and political cost of defecting — that served to discourage Republicans and red-state Democrats from convicting the president is almost too crushing to consider,” said Tanenblatt.
“I don't envy him, but I surely respect how gravely he considered the task before him,” he added. “Senator Romney did his duty, as he saw it, before God. He did what he believed was right without regard for the consequences. And in an era where cynicism reigns supreme, what more can we ask of our elected leaders?”
His view was in the minority among Republican movers-and-shakers. Brad Carver, a lawyer and grassroots activist, was a key supporter of Romney in the northern Atlanta suburbs after Gingrich dropped out of the race. And on Thursday, he couldn’t come to terms with Romney’s vote.
“The president endorsed Romney in the Senate race and gave him another chance to support our party,” said Carver. “Romney let us down. Senator Loeffler had it right with her tweet: It’s 2020, time for all of us to unite against socialism.”
‘Appease the left’
He's referring to Loeffler, who earlier lashed out at Romney and accused him of seeking to "appease the left" with his support of a failed effort to allow witnesses to testify at the Senate trial that wrapped up on Wednesday.
In a sign of how poisonous Romney has become in Georgia, Collins has issued a “daily reminder” that Loeffler and her husband combined to donate $1.5 million to a pro-Romney super PAC in 2012 – and didn’t give to Trump ahead of his 2016 election.
And his latest digital ad, released Friday, starts with a regal image of Trump sitting in the Oval Office, before showing grainier shots of Loeffler, Romney and a million-dollar check. It ends: ““Kelly Loeffler: Too swampy for Georgia.”
The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which supports Loeffler, responded with screen-grabs of Collins' saying he would "proudly cast my vote" for Romney in October 2012, when he was the Republican presidential nominee.
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, who also faces a re-election fight, is finding Romney to be a convenient target as well. He compared Romney to “Jeff Flake on steroids” – reference to a former Arizona Republican and Trump critic also unpopular among grassroots Republicans.
Georgia Democrats, on the other hand, rushed to praise his decision. Matt Lieberman, among several Democrats running for Loeffler's seat, called Romney a "modern-day profile in courage."
So, too, did James Carter, the Democratic sleuth who unearthed video of Romney in 2012 criticizing 47% of Americans as being dependent on the federal government for assistance. That clip was pivotal to Obama’s re-election victory.
"I have made the decision to no longer haunt 47% of Mitt Romney's nightmares," said Carter, a grandson of the former president. "We're good."