After a long spell outside the political spotlight, Mitt Romney is quietly beginning to lend a hand to a select few Republican candidates in midterm races. There's no doubt that a nod from former top name on the GOP ticket has value, especially financially. But how do the party, candidates, and Romney himself know when and where the failed presidential candidate should get involved?
For the candidates who ultimately get his help, the results are public record: In the past month, Romney has twice lent his name to candidates running in those two all-important primary states where he spent so much time in 2011, Iowa and New Hampshire. Federal campaign finance records show that his former campaign fund, Romney for President, has cut checks for $2,000 each to five candidates in competitive races.
As GOP candidates gear up for another year of primary battles, his support could be a valuable endorsement for primary candidates in need of conservative bona fides or a general-election boost in a state Romney captured in 2012. In other cases, it looks like the former governor is helping along someone who helped him in his own bid for office.
On Tuesday, Romney starred in a U.S. Chamber of Commerce ad for Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho, touting a familiar message of "out-of-control" spending in D.C. Speaking from a room that looks vaguely like the Oval Office, Romney endorses Simpson as the true "conservative choice" to combat "Washington's wasteful spending."
Romney took Idaho with more than 64 percent of the vote in 2012, and his face on TV could be a boon to Simpson, especially with Mormon primary voters, ahead of a formidable challenge from Club for Growth-backed attorney Bryan Smith.
On Wednesday, Romney sent an email to prospective donors on behalf of once-and-possibly-future Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, "a proven Republican leader who shares our values," as Romney put it.
Last month Romney weighed in on the crowded Iowa primary, tapping state Sen. Joni Ernst as Republicans' best shot to defeat Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in a race where Republicans have long been concerned about the prospect of ending up with a weak nominee.
Romney has made two endorsements in Nevada, a state Obama took in 2012 but also one where Mormon political influence is strong. Romney visited the state in March to raise money for Rep. Joe Heck at a private home, The Washington Post reported in a look at the deliberations behind Romney's recent political reemergence. That appearance led to his recent help for lieutenant-governor candidate (and fellow Mormon) Mark Hutchison, who sought Romney's help at the Heck fundraiser, The Post reports.
Meanwhile, Romney's former campaign fund has doled out cash in several races, primarily to candidates with strong ties to the former candidate. The campaign gave to Virginia state legislator Barbara Comstock, who worked on Romney's 2008 campaign and is running for retiring Rep. Frank Wolf's open seat in Northern Virginia. Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie's Virginia Senate campaign also got a donation.
In upstate New York, Romney's committee cut a check to former George W. Bush and Paul Ryan aide Elise Stefanik in the open race to replace Democratic Rep. Bill Owens. It also gave to former California state Sen. Tony Strickland, a two-time state Romney campaign chairman making his second bid for the House of Representatives.
The formula for a Romney endorsement isn't solid science yet—he has, according to The Post's reporting, turned down entreaties from other connected campaigners, like his former Illinois campaign chairman Dan Rutherford, who made an unsuccessful run for governor there. But the letters, the money, the travel, and the on-camera endorsement make it clear he's willing to use some of his free time to pitch in where he can—and the number of candidates getting Romney's help can only grow.
This article appears in the April 21, 2014 edition of NJ Daily.