Mitt's move may open more doors

Published: Friday, Feb. 15 2008 12:00 a.m. MST

Sen. John McCain, left, shakes hands with Mitt Romney in Boston, where the former rival endorsed McCain's presidential bid.

Gerald Herbert, Associated Press

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WASHINGTON — Now that Mitt Romney has endorsed Sen. John McCain, his former rival for the GOP presidential nomination, does that mean there will be a role for him in a McCain administration?

Romney quit the race for the White House a week ago, but on Thursday released his delegates and endorsed the Arizona senator at a news conference in Boston with McCain by his side.

The chances of the newfound unity between the once fierce rivals translating into a McCain-Romney ticket, though, seemed like a long shot to political observers. More likely, they say, might be a Cabinet-level appointment.

Or Romney could have set aside his differences with McCain to boost his standing in the Republican Party in anticipation of making another run at the White House. That could come as soon as 2012 if McCain loses in November.

"I'm not sure — and indeed doubt — anything concrete was offered for this endorsement," said Kirk Jowers, director of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics and a longtime Romney supporter.

But, Jowers said, Romney clearly stands to benefit by coming forward now, especially with former Arkansas Sen. Mike Huckabee staying in the race even though it's all but impossible at this point for him to amass enough delegates.

"It certainly makes every possibility, from vice president to the Cabinet to greater support in a future run, much more likely," Jowers said. "He is unquestionably a front-runner for 2012 if a Democrat wins in 2008."

Matthew Wilson, a religion and politics professor at Southern Methodist University in Texas, said a Cabinet post such as Commerce secretary might be more likely than vice president.

Or, Wilson said, at least a good speaking slot at September's Republican National Convention.

Herb London, president of the Hudson Institute, a neoconservative think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., said McCain, 71, is going to need someone full of "youthful vitality" as well as conservative and Southern as a vice presidential candidate.

"I don't see what Romney could bring to the ticket. He could deliver Utah, but what difference would that make?" London said. "Utah would go for the Republican anyway."

But Charles W. Dunn, dean of Regent University's School of Government, said

the endorsement was "make-up time" and that Romney would be a good running mate.<

"Delivering your home state is just one of a number of criteria," Dunn said. "Solidifying the conservative base is more important than the electoral vote (of Massachusetts)."

He agreed that McCain does need to penetrate the South but solidifying the conservative base would help bring the South.

"McCain desperately needs to mend fences with the conservative base and Romney could play a significant role there," Dunn said. "Romney has the hard-core conservative support." Dunn said evangelicals also trust Romney more than McCain and that would help bring in votes as well.

Utah pollster Dan Jones said Romney's endorsement of McCain will help make the Arizona senator more attractive to the state's voters. Jones found in a poll taken last week after Romney dropped out that nearly as many Utahns favored voting for a Democrat, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, as for McCain.

Even without Romney on the ticket, McCain can still win GOP-dominated Utah in November, Jones said, but shouldn't expect a 90 percent victory like Romney enjoyed in the Feb. 8 primary. "He could walk across the Great Salt Lake and not do that," Jones said.

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