2005-06-25 / Editorials

Michigan Politics

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney Has Michigan Ties
By George Weeks

As Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney tests national waters for a 2008 presidential bid, the Water Wonderland where his father once was governor is a prime sample. He was just here for the second time this year and is likely to be back in September on Mackinac Island.

Romney, son of ex-Gov. George Romney, was the featured speaker at a March fund-raiser for state Senate Republicans and was the draw last week at one for U.S. Rep. Joe Knollenberg of Bloomfield Hills--where the Romneys long lived.

Among those at the event was west Michigan businessman Dick DeVos, frontrunner for the 2006 GOP gubernatorial nomination and someone who could, as Romney did in Massachusetts, spend his own millions to be elected governor.

Romney and his political media guru Mike Murphy, another former Michiganian, also had private huddles with state GOP leaders. Among them was Republican State Chairman Saul Anuzis, who says Romney would be "a very formidable" prospect for the 2008 GOP nomination.

Indeed he would.

When Romney, whose organizational skills rescued the troubled 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic games and now governs a state where only 13 percent of voters are Republicans, was here in March, I noted that Michigan's religious right contended he was not far enough to the right on some issues.

Now comes the conservative National Review magazine, in a glowing June 20 cover story on "Matinee Mitt: Charming. Smart. Conservative." It said, "the next time the casting director of a prime-time show needs to pick an actor to play the president, he could do a lot worse than Romney."

The magazine's national political writer, John J. Miller, said the big question is whether Romney can catch a break "from conservatives who possess an instinctive wariness of anything emanating from the land of Kennedy, Dukakis, and Kerry. Their skepticism is well warranted – but Romney also deserves a fair hearing from them as they search for a successor to President Bush. They may come to like the guy."

Anuzis, the Michigan GOP chief, found Romney "very refreshing," particularly for his "candor and straightforwardness." Straight talk was a factor in the 2000 Michigan Republican presidential victory of Arizona Sen. John McCain, another frequent flier to Michigan this year.

McCain and Romney are among prospective presidential contenders expected to be at the Sept. 23-23 Republican Leadership Conference on Mackinac Island. There have been periodic mutterings that Romney being a Mormon could be an issue if he is a presidential candidate. The National Review noted that a 1999 Gallup survey indicated that although few Americans said they wouldn't vote for a Jewish candidate (six percent) or a Catholic one (four percent), 17 percent ruled out supporting a Mormon.

"In a GOP primary, the surrogates of other Republican candidates probably will emphasize Mormonism's doctrinal oddities, such as its claims about extra-Biblical revelation," wrote Miller.

That's hardly a problem in Michigan, which gave George Romney, a 1920s Mormon missionary in the British Isles, three terms.

"It's pretty much a non-issue in Michigan," according to Anuzis, who says in these parts there is "almost a hometown boy feeling" about Mitt Romney.

A Native Son.

George Weeks is the political columnist for The Detroit News and is syndicated by Superior Features.

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