Romney recruits 3 House members as eyes, ears

Published: Sunday, Jan. 21 2007 12:26 a.m. MST

WASHINGTON — White House hopeful Mitt Romney has recruited three Republican House members to be his eyes and ears on Capitol Hill as his exploratory committee keeps testing the presidential waters.

The three "congressional liaisons" will help with outreach to other members of Congress in gaining support for Romney and help the former Massachusetts governor with issues Congress faces, according to his exploratory committee.

Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., will lead the liaison effort with Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., and Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, R-Calif., as the co-liaisons.

McKeon attended Brigham Young University and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but these similarities are not the sole reason he is supporting Romney, according to his chief of staff, Bob Cochran.

Cochran said McKeon first met Romney after the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City and has watched his career since.

"He is very impressed with his record," Cochran said. "That sold him on his support for his candidacy."

The combination of his business background and experience in running and implementing policies for Massachusetts convinced McKeon that Romney is the man for the job.

When asked about the Mormon ties, Cochran said it is "an issue that will have to be addressed." He has heard McKeon tell members that he did not support Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah — a fellow Mormon — when he ran for president in 2000 if they ask if the only reason he supports Romney is because they share the same religion.

Camp has the Michigan connection to Romney, said spokesman Sage Eastman. Romney's father, George W. Romney, served two terms as the state's governor, and also ran for president in 1968.

"He feels that the leadership that Gov. Romney brings to the table is something the nation needs," Eastman said. "His executive leadership will be a key asset."

McCrery, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, has worked on health care issues throughout his congressional career and is drawn to Romney's work on that issue.

"I am honored to support Gov. Romney," McCrery said. "As a governor, he has been a leader on health care reform, an issue that I have long focused on. I'm confident Gov. Romney can bring a fresh perspective and an innovative, principled approach to the issues our nation faces."

On the Senate side, Sen. Jim Demint, R-S.C., has publicly support Romney and other supporters will be made known at another time, according to the exploratory committee. South Carolina is an early — meaning important — primary state.

But South Carolina's other Republican Senator, Lindsey Graham, supports Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who also has a presidential exploratory committee. McCain has not named liaisons as Romney has.

"Senator McCain enjoys many friendships in the nation's capital and has numerous leaders in government reaching out on his behalf," said spokesman Danny Diaz. "The senator's record of common-sense conservatism is receiving strong support on Capitol Hill and across the country."

Former New York Mayor Rudy Guilani is also mulling a bid. None of three has made a formal announcement yet.


E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com

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