WALKER PREVIEWS THEME
Criticizing Washington as a city of power-hungry elites, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Friday offered a preview of his likely White House message: “As much as I like coming here, I love going home even more,” Walker said during a speech delivered just a block from the White House complex. Sounding familiar campaign themes of smaller government, greater accountability and general distaste for the nation’s capital, Walker looked to use his visit to build interest in his potential campaign. “The best way we move this country is by transferring power from Washington out to the hardworking people of this country,” Walker said during his first address to a Washington audience this year. While he has yet to formally announce his intentions, Walker becomes the latest in a group of high-profile Republicans taking significant steps toward launching a presidential campaign.
— Associated Press
Mitt Romney ended his return to presidential politics on Friday, declaring his party would be better served by the “next generation of Republican leaders” and concluding his unlikely comeback as suddenly as it began.
Aides said it was a deeply personal and even painful decision for the former Massachusetts governor. He insisted he could win if he ran, but his announcement followed a three-week fact-finding effort that revealed significant resistance to another bid by Romney, who first sought the Republican presidential nomination in 2008 and won it in 2012.
“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Romney told supporters on a conference call. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”
The remark was both a recognition of his own limitations and an indirect swipe at the man who created the urgency behind Romney’s brief flirtation with a third campaign: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the son and brother of former presidents, who is expected to mount a campaign of his own.
Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie would have served as Romney’s most likely rivals for the support of the GOP establishment. The announcement sparked a rush of activity by Romney operatives and donors suddenly freed to support another White House hopeful.
Devoted Romney supporter Bill Kunkler, part of Chicago’s wealthy Crown family, said he was disappointed by Friday’s news but now was all-in for Bush, noting that he planned to attend a Feb. 18 Bush fundraiser hosted by other former Romney backers.
Bobbie Kilberg, a top GOP fundraiser based in Virginia, quickly settled on Christie.
“We had long and deep ties and friendship with Mitt,” she said. “That has changed obviously, at 11 o’clock this morning.”
Romney, who is 67, had shocked the political world three weeks ago when he signaled interest in a third presidential run during a private meeting with former donors in New York. That followed what aides describe as several months of strong encouragement from Republicans as he toured the country, raising money and energy for GOP colleagues.
“No one asked McCain to run again,” said longtime Romney aide Ron Kaufman, referring to 2008 Republican nominee John McCain. “Thousands of people asked Mitt to run again.”
Romney, a longtime business executive, has typically followed a scientific approach to challenges — political and otherwise — and demanded data before making a decision.
He and his most trusted advisers plunged into phone calls and personal visits with key GOP officials and activists across the country. At the same time, Romney tested a new stump speech focused on the poor and middle class.
The evaluation phase peaked during a gathering of senior aides one week ago at the Boston offices of Solamere Capital, an investment firm led by his eldest son, Tagg, and top fundraiser, Spencer Zwick.
Aides offered Romney a blunt assessment of his 2016 prospects, suggesting there was still a path to victory but also eroding support among donors and in former strongholds such as New Hampshire. They made clear that a new bid for the GOP nomination would be more challenging than his second, when Romney dominated a field that never featured another strong establishment alternative such as Bush or Christie.
In the subsequent days, several major Romney donors and one of his most trusted veteran staffers — someone who had participated in the Boston meeting — defected to Bush’s team. The trend was unmistakable, despite Romney’s optimism.
The Friday conference call ended what was always intended to be a brief trial period.
“I am convinced that we could win the nomination, but I fully realize it would have been difficult test and a hard fight,” Romney said.
He made no endorsement, but was having dinner Friday night with Christie, who was among his staunchest backers during the 2012 race.
He left the door open, if only a crack, to another comeback. He said he had been asked if there were any circumstance under which he would again reconsider.
That, he said, “seems unlikely.”
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com