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Is Romney the hope for GOP?
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Richard Nixon lost the presidency in 1960, was pilloried in his own party for losing to so inexperienced an opponent as John F. Kennedy and eight years later was elected to the White House. Ronald Reagan tried twice, in 1968 and 1976, and didn't win the Republican nomination until 1980, when he was elected president.
If you and I know that, then surely Mitt Romney does, too -- and there are growing signs Romney, fortified by the conviction he was right more often than he was wrong in his campaign against a president who now suffers from plunging public support, may be looking at a third presidential race as well.
This is not merely musings for a September morning. Nationally regarded Republican political operatives -- among the party's shrewdest and most experienced analysts, mostly of the breed who recoil at the thought of Rand Paul of Kentucky or Ted Cruz of Texas heading the GOP ticket -- are talking privately of the appeal Romney might have in 2016.
If the Republican insurgents look as though they will split the primary vote, and if former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida does not mount a campaign of his own, then Romney could emerge as a powerful contender.
A Romney campaign would be all the more formidable in the unlikely event that former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton does not run for president. A Republican veteran of nine presidential campaigns told me, in reference to the retiring governor of Maryland, a Democrat: "Mitt Romney versus Martin O'Malley wouldn't be close."
The potential Romney surge -- actually, more of a stealth operation -- would be fueled by his involvement in midterm congressional and gubernatorial contests this autumn. Several top Republican operatives say GOP officials may supply Romney -- one of the most-requested surrogate campaigners in the country -- with a plane to campaign for Republican candidates.
"He could fill the day four times over with legitimate requests for his time," says Ron Kaufman, a former Republican National Committee budget chairman and a White House official in the first Bush years.
Three months ago, the Granite State Poll conducted for WMUR-TV by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center found that nearly 40 percent of likely Republican voters in the state's first-in-the-nation primary would side with Romney if he ran, pushing all the other potential candidates to support levels beneath 10 percent.
Every presidential race has its own contours and rhythms, and Nixon's 1966 gambit hasn't been repeated on that scale by any candidate in nearly a half century, with one signal exception: Ronald Reagan. The only political figure in a position to repeat it this time around is Romney. The key to the 2016 race may be whether he chooses to do so.
David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Post-Gazette (dshribman@post-gazette.com).