Mitt Romney tells Shushannah Walshe he's "not worried about what anybody says" about his chances—but his aides have an eye on Sarah Palin as he tries to win over Tea Party supporters in Iowa. Plus, the latest midterm predictions from the Election Oracle.
Yesterday Mitt Romney went to the all-important first caucus state of Iowa for only his second visit since his 2008 primary campaign was dealt a serious blow there by Mike Huckabee. Romney was there stumping for former governor Terry Branstad who looks likely to reclaim the governorship, and it’s probably the most high profile campaign stop he’s making on behalf of his endorsees. His potential 2012 rival Sarah Palin made a much-talked about stop there in September headlining a dinner for the Iowa GOP. They may both have the goal of 2012 in their sights, but the two Republican leaders have serious stylistic differences on how to get there.
Even considering this week’s stops in Iowa and New Hampshire, Mitt Romney has kept a low profile, methodically stumping for his endorsees and hitting 25 states in the six weeks before Election Day. He has spent almost every day back out on the trail raising money (his Free and Strong America raised $5.1 million this year), brandishing his economic problem solver credentials and rallying the party faithful in campaigns that aren’t getting national headlines.
Last week The Daily Beast caught up with Romney when he held fundraisers for two gubernatorial candidates: Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Tom Emmer in Minnesota. In Milwaukee, he answered questions with Walker at a tiny press availability, and then Romney traveled to Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb, to headline a rally for Emmer after the fundraiser. While the crowd that greeted him only numbered about 400—nowhere near the numbers that Sarah Palin regularly draws—they were energetic, and many at the rally stayed after to try and take a picture with, or get the autograph of, the former presidential candidate. Instead of the national media and frenzy that greets every Palin event as she campaigns for her mama grizzlies, there were no other national reporters at the two open press events.
Palin’s rallies, in stark contrast, are like rock concerts with hundreds of screaming supporters hanging on her every word. Last weekend, she appeared in Orlando and gave a fiery 30-minute speech to over 1,000 fans. The event included top Florida GOP leadership, a live band, and concession stands.
She connects with her supporters, but she hasn’t been on the trail day in and day out as Romney has. Instead she sends out political money bombs by posting on her Facebook page and asking supporters to give to her mama (and papa) grizzlies. And, of course, she appears at big events like Orlando or a rally she will headline later this week in Anchorage with Republican senate candidate and friend, Joe Miller. It’s not easy to get a schedule for Palin, usually her fan sites have the most up-to-date appearance schedules for the former Alaska governor, but it doesn’t seem to affect the massive turnouts she is able to reel in.
Palin is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to working a rope line, famously throwing off her vice-presidential schedule because of how long she wanted to stay shaking hands. While Romney, who in his first presidential campaign was often called stiff and unable to connect with voters, seemed much more at ease greeting supporters at his events last week. Although there weren’t screaming masses of people like at Palin events, there was a strong turnout of supporters who were there for him as much as for the candidates he was endorsing.
“I think someone said, ‘We are all Tea Partiers’ and I think that is probably true to a certain extent in our party,” says Mitt Romney.
Due to her contract, Palin is on Fox News often, but her constant derision of the “lamestream media” and her contract means she declines other interviews. Although the Romney team says he is in high demand, he is keeping a low profile and not agreeing to do any national interviews either, but did take questions from The Daily Beast on the trail.
“It’s about 2010, not about 2012. I think he’s been very focused and very disciplined about doing the right thing. It’s not about him, it’s about winning seats. I believe if we do the right things then good things happen and he is doing the right thing,” a longtime Romney friend explained. “There’s no one that’s done more (in this cycle).”
So in the week before the midterms, Romney made a stop for Scott Walker although he was up 9 points in the polls because his plans were set. The events may be small, but his team is careful not to overexpose him knowing that there is time for media saturation when the presidential campaign heats up.
“We looked across the country at races that we thought would be close,” Romney explained. “You really can’t be complacent, even those polls where you’ve got a strong lead. Things can happen in the waning weeks…I‘ll tell you there is a special place in my heart for campaigning in governor’s races.”
Both Palin and Romney travel with small staffs, and there was a single aide with Romney as he traveled from Wisconsin to Minnesota, and then on to Ohio.
At the events, the candidates and Romney focused on his time in the Massachusetts state house, but also stressed his economic experience. With the economy still struggling and people voting their wallet, it is this message that makes Romney a formidable candidate. It is this side of Romney that is likely to resonant with voters, as opposed to his stances on the social issues, which he got assailed for in his primary campaign because he was less socially conservative as the governor of Massachusetts. Huckabee constantly went after him in 2007 and that could easily be replaced by Palin. It’s something he will need to try and steer clear from as much as possible in 2012.
But, even when campaigning for Walker, Romney can’t escape the inevitable question about his conservative credentials. When asked at the press conference if Walker was more socially conservative than he is.
“I would be surprised if any two Republicans have exactly the same positions on all the issues, but on some of the major issues of our time which are getting government out of the way of the private sector and encouraging entrepreneurship and individuals to get good jobs we are smack dab in the same place,” Romney said.
But there was no avoiding the Tea Party, which has embraced Palin as its leader, but it’s still unclear if they accept Romney. On the trail, Romney has been appealing to them in his speeches. He told The Daily Beast that they are the mainstream of the GOP, even returning to the reporter to stress that point a second time.
“The great thing about the Tea Party movement is that it is focused on lower taxes and smaller government and that is the mainstream sentiment of the Republican Party so I happen to believe if a candidate is supported by Tea Party activists or by other Republican groups that they are very much in the mainstream philosophy of our party: smaller government, lower taxes,” Romney told The Daily Beast. “I think someone said, ‘We are all Tea Partiers’ and I think that is probably true to a certain extent in our party because of those common views on smaller government and lower taxes. That’s a theme I think that our party embraces quite broadly and generally.”
As talk of a potential 2012 match up between Palin and Romney continues, the comparison between the Tea Party and establishment Republican types are already being made. But when asked what he thinks when people put him in the establishment camp, he quipped with a laugh, “I’m not worried about what anybody says.”
At least not yet.
Shushannah Walshe covers politics for The Daily Beast. She is the co-author of Sarah From Alaska: The Sudden Rise and Brutal Education of a New Conservative Superstar. She was a reporter and producer at the Fox News Channel from August 2001 until the end of the 2008 presidential campaign.