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Romney readies for White House run if McCain fails

Romney readies for White House run if McCain fails

ST. PAUL, Minn.—Like his father, Mitt Romney ran for governor and won. Like his father, Mitt Romney ran for president and lost.

The question now is whether Mitt Romney once again follows in the footsteps of George Romney and serves the president in a Cabinet position.

By all accounts, he hopes not.

Since ending his own bid for the Republican presidential nomination in February, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has played the role of supplicant, doing everything asked of him to advance the candidacy of his former rival, the presumptive GOP nominee John McCain.

He played attack dog in media interviews arranged by the McCain's staff, even enduring hoots and hollers last week as he visited news sets on the floor of the Democratic National Convention. He commended to the Arizona senator one of his best advisers, former eBay chief executive Meg Whitman. And he and his team raised over $20 million for his once cash-strapped rival, all of which prompted McCain's top advisers to chatter about Romney as a topflight running mate.

Yet on Thursday, as Romney flew up and down the California coast urging supporters to give even more money to the McCain campaign, McCain offered the vice presidential nomination to Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, unknown on the national stage and someone he had met face-to-face only once previously.

McCain called to tell Romney the news Friday just before Romney boarded a flight back to Boston. In one sense, it was a crushing blow. But in another, it was liberating.

While Romney wished McCain and Palin well, his friends and advisers say if they fail in the general election, Romney is primed -- even anxious -- to mount a second bid for the White House.

The former CEO did not want to run with McCain so he could be No. 2 under a man who had ridiculed the role of the vice president as someone who attended funerals and "inquired daily about the health of the president." If they were successful this fall, Romney would have been a heartbeat away from the presidency under a man who would be the oldest person ever to begin service in the White House.

Now, with his vice presidential hopes dashed, Romney can again concentrate on the presidency, even as he buffs a veneer of support for the McCain-Palin ticket in statements and the speech he is due to deliver at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday -- the same night Palin accepts her surprise nomination.

While Romney was helping McCain in recent months, he also was working to maintain his future political viability.

A man of manners who neither drinks nor smokes, Romney knew it would be considered rude to be viewed as a sore loser. So, despite feeling he endorsed McCain in the Feb. 7 speech in which he ended his own presidential bid, he submitted to cameras and questions a week later to reiterate his support for the rival he once said lacked the background in economics needed to be president.

Romney also established the Free and Strong America PAC, a political action committee dedicated to helping McCain, as well as like-minded congressional and state political candidates. But the PAC also gives Romney a vehicle to raise money and travel the country, promoting himself as much as the candidates he wants to endorse.

He used a similar committee, as well as his 2006 chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association, to build the network of advisers, contributors and supporters he tapped the day he left office in 2007 to launch his presidential campaign.

The Free and Strong America PAC also allows gives Romney a headquarters where he can remain in contact with his inner circle of advisers: former business partner Bob White, campaign manager Beth Myers, conservative outreach coordinator Peter Flaherty and spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom. It is located in the same suburban office complex as the private equity firm of Romney's eldest son and political confidant, Tagg, and his top fundraiser, Spencer Zwick.

For the remainder of the campaign, Romney will focus on helping McCain and Palin win the White House. If the Republicans succeed, McCain could recognize Romney's dedication with an ambassadorship or a Cabinet post, just as President Nixon did when he appointed former Michigan Gov. George Romney to be his Housing secretary following their clash in the 1968 campaign.

Romney would be wise to accept such an offer: a year or two as vice president -- let alone even a day as president -- would give Palin a vast advantage in clout, exposure and fundraising over any potential rival for the 2012 Republican nomination.

But should they fail in a year McCain has implicitly conceded is a "change" election with his pick of Palin, it's no stretch to see Romney hitting the trail again on Nov. 5 in pursuit of the job he wanted from the start.

------

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Glen Johnson has covered local, state and national politics since 1985. He reported on Mitt Romney's governorship and presidential campaign for The Associated Press.

Romney readies for White House run if McCain fails - Boston.com
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