Republican candidates share complicated relationships

By Ashley Parker

New York Times News Service

Published: Sunday, Nov. 27 2011 10:08 p.m. MST

In this Nov. 12, 2011 file photo, Republican presidential candidates from left, Jon Huntsman Jr., Michele Bachmann, Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum prepare before the CBS News/National Journal foreign policy debate in Spartanburg, S.C.

Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

Moments before the start of a recent presidential debate at Dartmouth College, Mitt Romney and Herman Cain flung open the doors to their closet-size green rooms and ran into Newt Gingrich.

"Oh my ...," Gingrich marveled. "I'm looking at the ticket right now."

Then he went in for the kill. "I just don't know how you're going to feel about being vice president, Governor Romney," Gingrich deadpanned.

Was that gentle teasing among friends? Full-out mockery? Or was Gingrich taking a dig at Romney, whom he is now battling in the polls for the top of the field?

Whether in private moments like this one, recounted by a witness, or in front of millions of viewers at presidential debates, candidates come bearing years of shared history, relationships — or grudges — just beneath the surface.

So don't always believe what you see. Politicians are, well, politicians, and their charm and glad-handing is sometimes driven more by expediency and ambition and less by true friendship. But having some sense of how candidates relate to one another can offer clues for the future — especially if one is elected president.

Sen. Joe Biden said, famously, in 2007, that Sen. Barack Obama was "not yet ready" for the presidency. But a year or so later, Obama pronounced the two of them fast friends from their days on Foreign Relations Committee and picked him as his running mate. Was the choice based in friendship, calculation, policy passions — or maybe some sort of combination?

Here is a look at the Republicans' relationships:

Perry/Huntsman

True-blue friends

Waiting to take the stage at last week's foreign policy debate in Washington, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas poked his head into Jon M. Huntsman Jr.'s green room with some words of encouragement.

"Let's go, big guy," Perry shouted.

Perry and Huntsman are perhaps closer than any other pair of candidates. They got to know each other when Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, led the Western Governors Association. They worked together on issues like water and border security, often grabbing dinner and socializing at association meetings.

Once onstage, their chumminess shone through during commercials. At the third break, Perry walked over to Huntsman and patted his stomach. Then, the two men wrapped their arms around each other, and walked off toward the wings.

Gingrich

Everyone's buddy

As House speaker, Newt Gingrich was known as one of the most divisive figures in Washington. But perhaps because he has been a party stalwart for so long, he seems to have developed relationships with all the candidates. He plays the role of genial professor, often turning debate moderators' questions back on them rather than attacking his fellow Republicans.

Gingrich, in fact, wrote the forward to Perry's book, "Fed Up!"

Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have known each other for two decades as fellow members of Congress, where they worked on welfare reform. And he and Romney have gotten together socially with their wives.

Herman Cain is perhaps closest to Gingrich. When Cain came to Washington as a lobbyist for the National Restaurant Association in 1996, Gingrich was just beginning his ascent as speaker.

At the most recent debate, in Washington, the two men, whose lecterns were next to each other, cracked private jokes as the other candidates were speaking.

Their friendship has proved politically expedient to Cain, who often struggles with weighty policy questions, and has sometimes deferred to Gingrich.

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