Correction: 2016-GOP-Rubio-New Hampshire story

AP News
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Posted: Feb 10, 2015 3:59 PM

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — In a story Feb. 9 about U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio hiring a political operative in New Hampshire, The Associated Press misstated the operatives hired in the state by U.S. Sen. Rand Paul and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Paul hired Michael Biundo, not Mike Dennehy. Perry hired Dennehy.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Florida Sen. Rubio's PAC taps top New Hampshire GOP adviser

Florida Sen. Rubio's PAC taps top New Hampshire GOP adviser; Merrill was key Romney aide

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE and STEVE PEOPLES

Associated Press

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) — U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida has hired Jim Merrill, the Republican operative who ran Mitt Romney's New Hampshire campaigns, to run his political action committee's efforts in the Northeast.

The move sets up Merrill to lead Rubio's possible presidential efforts in New Hampshire, an early voting state, and is another sign that Rubio is positioning himself to run for president despite the likely candidacy of his political mentor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

"Sen. Rubio is an exceptional leader, (and) a gifted communicator with tremendous substance representing exactly the kind of next-generation conservative leadership our party and our nation need," Merrill said.

Merrill's comments echo Romney's, who said after announcing he wouldn't seek the presidency for a third time that the Republican party needs a new generation of leaders, a remark seen as a thinly veiled swipe at Bush.

Merrill is one of the most sought-after operatives in New Hampshire and was in discussions with Bush, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie before choosing to join Rubio's team.

"Marco Rubio has won the Jim Merrill primary," said Fergus Cullen, former chairman of the state Republican Party.

Merrill joined Romney in 2007 and led him to a second-place finish with 32 percent of the vote in the state's 2008 primary. He stayed with Romney through 2012, when Romney won New Hampshire with nearly 40 percent of the vote — an impressive number in a crowded field.

"Jim certainly knows how to win in New Hampshire and in the Northeast, and will be a great addition to our team at Reclaim America," said Terry Sullivan, director for Rubio's PAC.

Merrill's addition is a significant step forward for Rubio, who has been sending signals recently that he is seriously considering a 2016 campaign. Late last month, he held a private retreat with financial backers and political boosters on Miami's South Beach before courting potential donors in California, Texas and Illinois to round up checks for a prospective White House presidential run.

Rubio has repeatedly said he would not seek re-election for his Senate seat in 2016 and run for president at the same time.

He campaigned with several New Hampshire Republicans in 2014 and will be back in the state in March as part of his book tour. With Merrill on his team, Rubio will have a new boost in New Hampshire.

"He conveys a very great deal of credibility to Rubio immediately," said Tom Rath, another top Romney aide and longtime Republican strategist in the state that holds the nation's first primary.

Other possible Republican candidates have already hired New Hampshire operatives. U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and former Texas Gov. Rick Perry made their first hires last year, bringing on veterans Michael Biundo and Mike Dennehy. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's PAC recently hired Matt Mowers, former executive director of the state Republican party and a former Christie aide.

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Peoples reported from Washington.