Also-Rans Go on the Attack As 'Loyal Soldiers'

Former Massachussets governor Mitt Romney, in a swipe at Michelle Obama, told delegates:
Former Massachussets governor Mitt Romney, in a swipe at Michelle Obama, told delegates: "Just like you, there has never been a day when I was not proud to be an American." (By Ricky Carioti -- The Washington Post)
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By Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 4, 2008

ST. PAUL, Minn., Sept. 3 -- As former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney strode through the River Centre on his way to an MSNBC interview Wednesday afternoon, a group of Qwest Communications employees let out a cheer for the man who relinquished his own presidential quest less than seven months ago.

"Woo-hoo!" they cried as Romney hustled down the hallway with a clutch of aides.

Moments later, a member of the group who asked not to be identified said that they were not specifically cheering Romney. "We do that for everybody," he said. "It's kind of the Wave."

Such is the life of an also-ran at the 2008 Republican National Convention, where all of the focus is on the two people who have made it on the final ticket, John McCain and Sarah Palin. But Wednesday night offered a second look, as prime-time speakers, at the three men who came closest to challenging McCain in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida: Romney, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee and former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

"This is the 'I'm a loyal soldier day,' " said Carleton College political science professor Steven Schier, who spotted the onetime candidates as they traversed the halls here. "These guys have gotten over the initial disappointment because that was months ago. Now it's a matter of doing the work to keep future opportunities available."

None has been a more loyal soldier than Romney, who has campaigned tirelessly for McCain since dropping out of the GOP primaries in February. He and his top fundraisers have gathered about $20 million for the GOP ticket since that time, according to his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, who said Romney has personally given more than "100 interviews at the request of the McCain campaign."

"Mitt Romney wants to do everything he can to help ensure a Republican majority in the fall," Fehrnstrom said. "To that end, he's going to be campaigning for John McCain and Sarah Palin and Republicans up and down the ticket."

Romney "doesn't look in the rearview mirror," Fehrnstrom added. "There's no wistfulness, or crying about what might have been. He is very determined to help get John McCain into the White House."

Huckabee couldn't resist a look in that mirror when he took the stage. "Let me tell you, as much as I appreciate this magnificent opportunity to speak tonight, I've got to be honest -- I really was originally hoping for the slot on Thursday called the acceptance speech," he told the crowd, which exploded in laughter. "But I am delighted to speak on behalf of my second choice for the Republican nomination for president, John McCain -- a man with the character and stubborn kind of integrity that I want in a president."

But the impassioned case laid out by Huckabee, along with Romney and Giuliani, for the GOP ticket largely stuck to attacking Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Huckabee suggested that Obama "would continue to give madmen the benefit of the doubt" and expose the nation to future terrorist attacks. Giuliani argued that Palin "already has more executive experience than the entire Democratic ticket" because she served one four-year term as a mayor and then nearly two more years as a governor.

Giuliani worked the crowd like a Borscht Belt comedian, mocking Obama first for starting his career as a community organizer -- "Zero! Zero!" the audience chanted in response -- and then for voting present in the Illinois Senate.

After immersing himself in "Chicago machine politics," Obama won elected office, Giuliani said, where "nearly 130 times he couldn't make a decision."

"He couldn't make a decision of whether to vote yes," he added, pausing for full effect, "or no. It was too tough." The audience laughed.

Later Giuliani mocked Democrats for emphasizing the small size of Wasilla, Alaska, where Palin served as mayor. "I'm sorry that Barack Obama feels her home town isn't cosmopolitan enough," he said, his voice thick with sarcasm. "I'm sorry, Barack, that it's not flashy enough. Maybe they cling to religion there."

But long before Giuliani was working the crowd and Huckabee was extolling McCain's sacrifice, they each had envisioned standing on the podium in that arena hall, accepting the presidential nomination, rather than telling the crowd that someone else deserved it. Back then, Romney told reporters during a stop in Glen Ellyn, Ill., that McCain's policies "are virtually indistinguishable from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton on a number of issues."

Now Romney doesn't have time for such remarks. At the request of the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee, he headed to the television cameras once again, to explain why voters should elect John McCain.

Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington contributed to this report.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company