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Romney gets ready for 2012

Now that the 2010 midterm elections are over, tongues have already started wagging over who the potential Republican presidential candidates may be in 2012.

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By Dan Balz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 30, 2010; 4:34 PM

DAYTON, OHIO - Mitt Romney ambled through the exhibits at the InfoTech 2010 conference here the other day, shaking hands, posing for photos, sneaking an occasional chocolate turtle and, ever the salesman, promoting the candidacy of yet another Republican candidate.

On this trip, he was stumping for Rob Portman, the Republican Senate candidate who is heavily favored to win his race Tuesday. Romney was self-effacing as he moved along the rows of exhibits. "This is Rob Portman, he's running for Senate," he said as he introduced the former congressman to a group at one exhibit. "I'd love for you to vote for him."

All talk of a 2012 presidential candidacy was brushed aside. "I haven't made that decision," he said to one person who inquired about his plans. "I'm just working for this guy [Portman]. Let's get this guy in."

That's been the Romney way this fall. Head down, low profile, tending to the business of deepening relationships in a Republican Party that turned aside his bid for the presidential nomination in 2008. While other potential GOP presidential candidates have sought or drawn attention this fall, Romney seemingly has done the opposite.

He has campaigned in 25 states since the summer, according to a list prepared by his staff. Just recently, he crossed the million-dollar mark in money contributed to other campaigns and candidates from his political action committee. The money has gone to 21 gubernatorial candidates, 25 Senate candidates, more than 200 House candidates and a slew of people running for state legislatures.

In the 2010 cycle, he has done events in 13 senatorial races and an equal number of congressional races, many of them fundraisers. He has appeared at 48 events for gubernatorial candidates and eight more for other candidates running for state office. He has recorded more than 30 radio or TV ads or robo calls for candidates. He has signed 95 letters, e-mails or invitations appealing for money for candidates or Republican Party committees.

On Monday night, Romney will appear on "The Sean Hannity Show" on Fox News. What's notable about that is that it will mark one of his rare appearances on television this fall and a clear contrast to some of his potential 2012 rivals.

Sarah Palin attracts attention wherever she goes and is a Fox News contributor. Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a 2008 presidential candidate who might run again in 2012, has his own program on Fox. Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker, is another Fox contributor. He has been lobbing rhetorical grenades at President Obama and the Democrats all year and now talks more openly than ever about running for president.

Romney has taken a different approach. His team has sworn off any public discussion about 2012. Their line is that all focus is on the midterms. What comes after that can wait until the votes are counted Tuesday. But Romney is no less methodical - and no doubt wiser - about how to prepare for a likely presidential campaign, having gone through the experience of running unsuccessfully in 2008.

"We've picked our spots all along," said one Romney adviser, offering an insight into his boss's thinking about appearing on television or at major events. "We only have him go out there when he has something interesting to say."

The Romney team thinks there is only limited value in time spent on cable television, particularly when the focus is on the outrage of the moment and politicians are forced to react to events rather than make a case for themselves.

All of this is a notable change from four years ago, when Romney was little known and hungry to raise his profile. He was in a heated competition with John McCain to build political networks in early states, and he sought the spotlight where he could. He wanted to be mentioned.


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