Romney Builds Beltway Cred
Former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) continues to bring on an impressive roster of advisers with significant credibility inside the Beltway -- a move aimed at battling Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to a draw among the small but influential chattering class.
Romney has hired Tony Feather, who will serve as a political adviser, and Carl Forti, who will be the campaign's political director and one of four deputy campaign managers.
Feather is one of the pillars of the Washington Republican political establishment. He served as political director of President Bush's 2000 campaign and four years later was intimately involved with the Progress for America Voter Fund, a Republican-backed 527 group that spent heavily on ads attacking Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.). Feather is a principal in Feather Larson & Syndhorst, a direct mail and voter contact firm used frequently by Republican candidates and party committees, and retains a close relationship with the Bush White House.
"[Tony] is the godfather of grassroots campaigning and will be very involved in growing our campaign organization across the country and perfecting its mechanics," said a Romney adviser granted anonymity because Feather's hiring had not yet been made public.
Forti comes to Romney after seven and a half years at the National Republican Congressional Committee where he served in a variety of positions including communications director in the 2004 and 2006 cycles and the head of the organization's independent expenditure program in 2002, 2004 and 2006. In the latter role, Forti oversaw the spending of $76 million on nearly 200 television commercials and 300 pieces of direct mail aimed at influencing House races across the country in the 2006 election alone. Prior to his time at the NRCC, Forti spent five years at Wilson Grand Communications, a Republican media consulting firm.
In addition to his staff additions, Romney is also reaching out to the Republican lobbying world -- an effort led by Ron Kaufman of the Dutko Group and Drew Maloney of the Federalist Group.
Unlike McCain who has been in Washington for two decades and enjoys many relationships with the Beltway Republican world, Romney is something of a neophyte. During his time as chairman of the Republican Governors Association he spent some time cultivating the Washington world but he remains a much less well-known commodity in the city than McCain.
(McCain, meanwhile, is working to consolidate his support in Washington. An e-mail arrived in The Fix's inbox yesterday from Tim McKone -- AT&T's top D.C. lobbyist -- inviting the K Street crowd to a March 21 fundraiser in Washington to benefit McCain's exploratory committee.)
While there is value for Romney in running as an outsider to the "business as usual" politics that cost Republicans their House and Senate majorities last year, he must build a Beltway base for two major reasons. First, to raise the $50-$100 million necessary to compete with McCain through January 2008, Romney must find deep-pocketed and well-connected financial backers in the nation's capitol. Second, much of the chattering class/"Gang of 500" lives and works in Washington and, in order to pick up momentum and buzz, Romney needs credible surrogates making the argument for his candidacy at the daily lunches, receptions, happy hours and other informal events where gossip is traded and handicapping is done.
The additions of Feather and Forti -- coupled with a handful of other recent Romney hires -- reveal that the Governor understands the need to play this game. Watch his roster in the coming weeks to see whether he can lure other D.C. bigfoots to his cause.