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Romney picks Mike Leavitt to head transition team

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Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has tapped an official from the George W. Bush administration to lead transition-planning efforts in the event that President Obama is denied reelection in November.

Spokeswoman Andrea Saul on Sunday confirmed a Politico report that Romney has asked former Utah governor Mike Leavitt “to lead the Readiness Project,” as the campaign calls its transition preparations.

The appointment comes at a time of increasing optimism among Romney advisers in Boston about their chances of beating Obama amid continued weakness in the U.S. economic recovery. National polls generally show the race in a dead heat, although Obama retains an advantage in some crucial swing states.

While it is not unusual for a challenger to formally prepare for a transition of power, the Romney campaign is beginning the process particularly early in the contest. John D. Podesta, the former Bill Clinton administration official who led Obama’s transition efforts, did not begin the job until August 2008, according to news reports at the time.

Romney aides note that the Presidential Transitions Act was amended in 2010 to encourage earlier and more robust planning for a possible changeover.

“This is exactly what the bipartisan legislation signed into law by President Obama in 2010 encouraged candidates to do,” Saul said.

Leavitt, 61, was Utah’s governor when Romney was chosen to lead Salt Lake City’s troubled Winter Olympics efforts in 2002. He also served as secretary of health and human services in the Bush administration, and he describes himself as a good friend of Romney.

“The most important thing is to let the campaign be the focus of attention and for us to very quietly do what needs to be done, and that’s what we’re engaged in,” Leavitt told Politico.

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