Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri may be a GOP freshman, but he’s one of Washington’s most-connected players. That’s part of the reason Mitt Romney tapped him to count noses, serving as his Capitol Hill coordinator. A former top-ranking House member, Blunt should be an able messenger for the former Bay State governor.
Senate aides expect him to reinforce Romney’s ties to the Republican establishment and win over a few new members, especially more moderate GOP legislators from the class of 2010. Blunt will also give Romney a useful ear inside the conference, serving as the campaign’s liaison and chief Beltway recruiter.
So far, Romney has won the endorsements of a handful of influential GOP lawmakers, including Sen. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Sen. Scott Brown ( Mass.), and Rep. Buck McKeon (Calif.), the House Armed Services Committee chairman. More are expected to come in coming weeks, aides say, but Perry could pick up a slew of nods, too.
Still, speaking with Senate Republicans and staffers this afternoon, I was struck by how many senators remain undecided. There is buzz for Perry, but many Republicans are surprised that he is not doing more to build his campaign. Some likely supporters suspect that Perry may be running more of an outsider operation, but worry that he has not done enough, so far, to compete with the Romney machine.
Blunt’s role, some GOP aides suspect, may be to spark a move toward Romney as Perry works to build a national campaign. It’s all about timing, they say, with some senators happy to wait for months, and others angling to align themselves with a potential nominee. Early-autumn politicking, they tell me, matters as lawmakers evaluate the field.
Senate GOP aides add that Perry has many friends in the House , especially among southern freshmen. Rep. Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), a first-termer and tea-party favorite, recently signed on to be Perry’s economic adviser. Other South Carolinians are reportedly being courted by Team Perry. In the Senate, there is room for an “anti-Romney” to pick up votes, aides say — if only they are contacted and cajoled.
Blunt, in a conversation outside the chamber, tells me that initially, he will stick to pitching Romney’s platform, and not worry about much else. “I’m not against anybody,” he says. “I’m for [Romney].”
Indeed, Blunt, a low-key but talkative fellow, should be able to make the soft sell with ease. He served in a similar role for George W. Bush in the 2000 cycle. “I helped House members organize for Governor Bush,” he recalls. With Romney, he will, as he did then, talk about the governor’s record, to be sure, but also his electability.
“I think [Romney] is a candidate who can be competitive in lots of states in November, in places where we might not otherwise be,” he says. “I just announced this assignment today,” he says. “I’ve had a few of my colleagues come up and talk to me about it. I think there’s a lot of interest in his candidacy, and there is incredible interest in doing whatever is necessary to have a Republican president who is focused on getting this economy moving again.”