SALT LAKE CITY — Mitt Romney is making his first foray back into party politics since losing the 2012 presidential race by raising money for the GOP in New Hampshire next month.
But his decision to headline the event being held near his lakeside summer home in Wolfeboro, billed as "An Evening With Gov. Mitt Romney," is not being seen as a signal he's ready to return to a prominent role on the national scene.
"I don't think it forecasts any kind of big move on Romney's part," University of New Hampshire political science professor Dante Scala said Thursday, calling the engagement "more just a 'thank you' and returning of favors."
Peter Spaulding, chairman of the Merrimack County Commission in New Hampshire and an adviser to the other Republican presidential candidate last year with Utah ties, Jon Huntsman Jr., also said Romney is likely just trying to help.
"He has a lot of friends and supporters in New Hampshire and obviously was the next-door governor, in Massachusetts," Spaulding said.
New Hampshire residents, who watch Boston TV stations, knew Romney even before his first White House bid in 2008.
Longtime Romney supporter Kirk Jowers, head of the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, noted Romney's participation with the GOP is at the grass-roots level, rather than at a high-profile event.
"If it were some big thing in D.C., I think the speculation would be more warranted," Jowers said. "This is just minutes away from the place where he spends his entire summer."
The price tag for the New Hampshire fundraiser is just $100 a person, far less than the $25,000 cost to attend a VIP reception at Romney's final appearance in Utah last September, where he raised some $2 million for his presidential campaign.
Jowers said while Romney will attract attention for the New Hampshire fundraiser, "most people will consider this an off-the-radar event because it is a low-dollar, grass-roots effort."
Scala said low prices are typical for political fundraisers in New Hampshire, traditionally the first state in the nation to hold a presidential primary.
"I think the tendency is not to charge an arm and a leg for these types of things because of the grass-roots reputation of the state," he said. "They want to attract activists."
Plus, many New Hampshire residents are used to seeing presidential candidates at public events for free. Unlike Utah, New Hampshire is a frequent stop on the presidential campaign trail starting several years before the election.
Scala said raising money is an area where Romney could have the most influence over the GOP, if that's what he wants. Romney held a retreat in Deer Valley earlier this summer for some of his biggest contributors.
"I suspect if he's interested, he'll be looking for more of a kingmaker, behind-the-scenes type of role," Scala said, with Romney relying on his connections with the party's wealthy elite.
David Damore, a political science professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, said Romney is probably still trying to figure out what his role is in helping the Republican Party.
After all, Damore said, Romney believed at this point he would be assisting the party as the president, not as a candidate who fell short of defeating President Barack Obama.
Republicans, he said, "need people with Romney's money connections."
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