Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney isn't supporting anyone in particular yet among the growing field of potential GOP candidates for 2016, but he and Sen. Marco Rubio appear to be building a rapport that could help push the Florida Republican into the race's top tier.
Rubio, who was vetted as Romney's possible running mate
in the 2012 race, has already landed some of the former Massachusetts governor's key donors and advisers, reports The Washington Post
In addition, a Romney associate says that after he pulled himself from the long list of potential GOP candidates, he and Rubio have had two phone calls, with Romney mentoring the younger lawmaker.
Meanwhile, Romney has not gotten close with the apparent front-runners, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. Rubio's comment in January urging a turn to "the next generation of Republican leaders," was considered a slam at Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents.
Further, some Romney backers still complain that Jeb Bush did not actively support Romney's 2012 race, and that he pushed Romney out of 2016 contention. In addition, Walker's comments in his book "Unintimidated,"
which criticized Romney's failed 2012 campaign, are still causing issues with potential backers.
They also remain angry at another potential GOP candidate, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who hugged President Barack Obama after Superstorm Sandy destroyed the Jersey Shore, a gesture many Republicans complained showed he also backed Obama in the final days of the 2012 election.
Rubio, though, is winning many of Romney's backers through his policy positions, and has managed to sign up two of Romney's former campaign officials in recent weeks: Rich Beeson, Romney’s 2012 national political director, is expected to be Rubio’s deputy campaign manager, and Jim Merrill, Romney’s New Hampshire strategist, is to do the same for Rubio.
"I always said if Mitt had decided to run again, I'd be with him," Merrill said. "But when he decided not to go, I took a careful look at the field, and Marco represents the next generation of Republican leadership.”
Rubio is also courting Spencer Zwick, who was national finance chairman of Romney’s $1 billion campaign. Zwick said Rubio calls, texts and emails often for advice about assembling a campaign, and they have personal talks about their own families.
Zwick said he still is unaffiliated, but praised Rubio heavily.
"Have you watched him speak?" Zwick asked the Post. "This guy gives a message about the American dream that is compelling. People can say, 'Oh, it's the same speech every time,' but you know what? Ronald Reagan did that, too, and it happened to work."
Romney's associates are waiting for him to endorse a candidate. He has invited most of the field to his annual policy summit
in June, where they will meet with top donors and business leaders at Romney's Park City, Utah home.
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