In South Carolina, which is third on the 2012 calendar, Romney’s highest-profile backer is state Rep. Nathan Ballentine. But in 2008, Romney counted U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) as a senior adviser and scored endorsements from two key state legislators: Nikki Haley, now the governor, and Mick Mulvaney, now a freshman congressman.
This time, the three are neutral and have shown no signs of coming on board. Indeed, Haley has recently criticized the health-care law Romney signed as governor, saying: “We do not want a Massachusetts health-care plan in South Carolina.”
Romney talks regularly with DeMint about budget and economic matters, a Romney adviser said, but publicly, DeMint has kept his distance.
Romney was an early backer of Haley’s in the 2010 governor’s race, endorsing her a month before former Alaska governor Sarah Palin did so, back when she was trailing in the primary polls. That Haley has not endorsed Romney has “got everybody’s eyebrows up a little bit” within the campaign, said a strategist close to Romney’s political and finance operation.
Two Romney veterans, strategist Phil Musser and former Minnesota congressman Vin Weber, have joined Pawlenty’s campaign in senior roles. Both said they parted with Romney amicably.
“I think the world of him,” Weber said. “But I had to make a very personal decision. Tim Pawlenty’s been a friend of mine for 20-plus years. . . . Pawlenty represents our best shot to win in 2012.”
Warren Tompkins, a longtime South Carolina operative, became Romney’s senior adviser in November 2006. Not so this time.
“They have been slow to reach out to people who were with them in the past, in some respects making assumptions that people who were with them last time would be with them this time,” said Tompkins, who has not backed any campaign. “Sometimes you can be a little penny-wise and pound-foolish.”
When Romney formally announces his campaign at the Bittersweet Farm in Stratham, he will be joined by some new supporters, including the farm’s owners, Doug and Stella Scamman. Romney has also won over two key backers of Sen. John McCain in 2008, state Sen. John S. “Jack” Barnes Jr. and Merrimack County Sheriff Scott Hilliard, as well as state Senate Majority Leader Jeb Bradley, who remained neutral in 2008.
Also expected at the farm is former governor John H. Sununu. But he has made no endorsement because he is reportedly torn between Romney and Pawlenty — and waiting to see if the field changes again.