PONTIAC, Mich. -- Any real doubt that Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney will run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination should have been resolved by his performance Monday in suburban Oakland County, Mich. He did not merely drop into his native state for a political fund-raising speech. He spent a 12-hour candidate's day working a key presidential primary state.
Romney's public exposure was less than two hours at the Marriott Hotel in Pontiac for the 13th annual event sponsored by Rep. Joe Knollenberg. But in closed-door meetings starting at 8 a.m., he conferred with Republican politicians and donors. Although Romney sought no commitments and made no promises of his candidacy, the assumption by everybody here is that he will not seek re-election as governor in 2006.
Indeed, Romney's preparation for 2008 is more advanced than any of his potential Republican rivals. While he recently spoke in his neighboring state of New Hampshire, Romney's Commonwealth fund has raised and distributed $225,000, concentrated in three early primary states: Iowa, South Carolina and Michigan.
This early campaign is being put together by famed political consultant Mike Murphy, who is California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's closest political adviser and who worked for Sen. John McCain's presidential campaign in 2000. Trent Wisecup, a partner in Murphy's firm, arranged Monday's schedule. Wisecup and Murphy, both Michigan natives, were in the audience at the Marriott.
Romney began his long day over breakfast with Ed Levy, a nationally known leader in the Jewish community. That was followed by meetings with Romney's older brother, Scott, a prominent Michigan Republican, and builder John Rakolta, a major party contributor. He met some 20 Republicans for lunch and in the afternoon, including Dick DeVos (of the Amway family), the probable Republican nominee for governor. Romney talked about the need to elect DeVos and Republican candidates for governor elsewhere in '06, and the Republicans expressed fear of Hillary Clinton in '08.
Michigan is central to Romney's presidential hopes. It has been 36 years since George Romney, his father, served three terms as governor of Michigan, and the name is no longer familiar in the state. Mitt left Michigan at age 18 to attend Brigham Young University and has never lived here since. But Romney has made several political visits to the state, including three days starting last Saturday with his 40th class reunion at the elite Cranbrook school in Oakland County.