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Analysis: Romney, from Games to Gov.?

By DAVE HASKELL   |   Feb. 27, 2002 at 11:48 AM   |   Comments

BOSTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Mitt Romney may be vacationing in Hawaii but Massachusetts most likely is on his mind.

Romney, who many say deserves a gold medal for salvaging the scandalized Salt Lake Winter Olympics Organizing Committee as its president for the past three years, reportedly is mulling a run for the Republican nomination to be governor of Massachusetts.

The problem is that Massachusetts already has a Republican governor, although Jane Swift's title has "acting" in front of it, the result of her taking over the seat vacated when Gov. Paul Cellucci became ambassador to Canada last April.

Romney, a millionaire venture capitalist, previously vowed not to run against Swift in a divisive GOP primary in September. However, there are those in the Republican Party who are trying to get him to change his mind because they see him as the strongest candidate to fend off the Democrats in November, and polls back that up.

Romney signaled a possible shift this week when he said he is now open to such a challenge. No formal decision is expected until the middle of next month. Meanwhile, Romney went on a vacation to Hawaii for a change of scenery from wintry Utah.

While predominantly Democratic, voters in Massachusetts in recent elections chose tax cut-pledging Republican governors to offset a Democratic-controlled Legislature prone to raise taxes.

Because of a series of political embarrassments in recent months, Swift has seen her popularity plunge from a high following Sept. 11. Many Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats are anxious for Romney to return to Massachusetts, which he left three years ago to go to Salt Lake City for the Olympics.

Romney, who maintains a home in Belmont, Mass., is popular in the state. In 1994 he made an impressive run in the U.S. Senate race, his first bid for public office, giving longtime Democratic Sen. Edward M. Kennedy one of his toughest re-election battles.

In a poll published Wednesday, the Boston Herald found that 48 percent of Republicans surveyed disapprove of how Swift is running the state.

As for Romney, 69 percent of the Republicans viewed him favorably, and 57 percent of all voters rated him favorably.

Swift managed a 27 percent favorable rating among all voters, and 36 percent among Republican voters.

"Mitt Romney would be in an extraordinarily strong position to come into the state and trump Swift" for the GOP nomination, said Herald pollster R. Kelly Myers. "Jane Swift is now in a very vulnerable political position.

"He is getting just a huge boost coming out of Salt Lake that he could translate into a fairly strong position if he wanted to enter the race for governor of Massachusetts," Myers said.

While the poll found that Swift would lose in a race against any of the three top Democratic hopefuls -- former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, state Treasurer Shannon P. O'Brien, or state Senate President Thomas F. Birmingham -- it showed Romney beating any of the five announced Democratic candidates fairly easily.

There are already signs of defections among Republicans from Swift to Romney, whose father George Romney was governor of Michigan.

Denise Jillson, former campaign manager for Republican state Treasurer Joseph Malone, GOP fundraiser Martin Begien, and party activist Jon Spampinato have a draft-Romney strategy session on Thursday with other grass-roots Republicans.

Jillson said Massachusetts cannot afford to elect a Democrat and become a one-party state and sees Romney as the party's best chance of victory.

From all indications, the governor's chair in Massachusetts appears to be Romney's for the taking. All he has to do is say yes.

© 2002 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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