Some of the doubters are consultants whom Romney has not hired again or who took roles with rival campaigns. But the more prominent Romney refugees are elected officials and GOP bigwigs who are publicly questioning whether Romney has learned the lessons of his failed bid and whether he will be able to connect with voters.
“I was proud to be with Governor Romney, but I also am interested in hearing from the other candidates,” said Ovide Lamontagne, a New Hampshire politician who has had many of the contenders over to his home for coffee and dinner. “I’m looking to identify the most conservative candidate who can win. This is a different election than in 2008.”
Romney has a more robust network — particularly among major donors and establishment figures — than any other Republican in the running. His core team remains largely unchanged from 2008, with longtime advisers Beth Myers, Eric Fehrnstrom, Russ Schriefer and Stuart Stevens, as well as newly elevated campaign manager Matt Rhoades and political director Rich Beeson, calling the shots at headquarters.
“We are a leaner but stronger organization,” campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul said.
But beyond the inner circle, there has been significant turnover among Romney’s surrogates and advisers, particularly in the early voting states. Many elected officials who endorsed him in 2008 are staying on the sidelines until the contours of the 2012 race become more clear — feeding the notion that Romney is a weak front-runner.
The Democratic National Committee highlighted the issue on Wednesday, creating an online yearbook of “Romney defectors.”
“People make a commitment for a period of time and then they reserve the right to change their mind,” said Tom Rath, a senior Romney adviser based in New Hampshire. “Obviously you’d like to have everybody, but . . . there’s a degree of churning that’s inevitable.”
Bruce Keough, who oversaw Romney’s 2008 New Hampshire campaign, turned down an offer to join the 2012 team. “I don’t think the voters are looking for somebody who’s going to be recasting himself,” he told Mother Jones magazine in May, adding that Romney causes people to think, “Wait a second, I thought I knew him and now I’m not so sure.”
In Iowa, Romney’s 2008 state chairman, Doug Gross, is neutral. So is Gentry Collins, who was Romney’s Iowa director but is not planning to join any 2012 campaign. And Nicole Schlinger, who coordinated Romney’s grass-roots efforts there, was recently hired by former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s campaign.