Just a week ago, Mitt Romney’s prospects in Ohio’s Super Tuesday presidential primary looked grim indeed.
Infighting between allies of Ohio John Governor Kasich and State Party Chair Kevin DeWine has rocked the state’s Republican Party, causing major operatives and donors, who may have otherwise supported the establishment favorite, to sit the presidential primary out.
But Romney’s victories in Michigan and Arizona on Tuesday and Senator Rob Portman’s newly increased role in Romney’s Ohio operations now have key players in the state giving Romney a second look.
One current Romney operative in particular – Majority Strategies owner Brett Buerck – has made waves among Romney and non-Romney supporters alike in Ohio and has been named as a main cause of the civil war occurring in the Ohio Republican Party that is spilling over into Romney’s campaign.
The official line from the Romney campaign is that Buerck, who has an extremely rocky past in Ohio politics, including charges of political racketeering, is merely a mail vendor. Yet, all six of the high-level operatives who spoke to Red Alert Politics off-the-record confirmed that Buerck has been more heavily involved in Romney’s Ohio ground game than the campaign is letting on.
Furthermore, Buerck was repeatedly cited as a key cause of Romney’s overall lackluster campaign in Ohio, and as a principal reason behind Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s seemingly abrupt decision to switch his endorsement from Romney to Rick Santorum. (Mike DeWine and state chairman Kevin DeWine are cousins – and also bitter rivals.)
As of Tuesday, Romney was still polling 11 points behind former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum in Ohio. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost’s endorsement last night of Mitt Romney comes as the first clear sign since DeWine’s un-endorsement that Romney has stopped the bleeding in his establishment support and can still win the swing state in the primary.
“I really do believe [the win in Michigan] will propel us to a win in Ohio and the sort of rejuvenated, reinvigorated campaign being lead by Rob Portman,” said Matt Borges, an advisor to Yost and a Romney supporter himself.
Portman’s involvement, Borges said, “was really the thing that I think helped us solidify Yost, and it helped give us the momentum we were hoping to further Romney’s events today in Ohio fresh off his win in Michigan and Arizona.”
A source close to Kasich said the governor would not endorse any of the candidates in the primary because he generally does not endorse in primaries. He added in some daggers for the governor’s intra-party rivals: “[Ohio GOP Chair Kevin] DeWine and Buerck’s influence in Ohio with the Romney campaign hurts their ability to be fully effective in the state.”
Yost and Portman are the only statewide officials to come out in support of Romney. Yost is well liked in Ohio, but as Auditor, he is not particularly powerful or well known. He does not bring with him the network of donors and operatives that Kasich, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel or Reps. Jim Renacci, Steve Stivers or Steve Chabot could bring. On the other hand Portman and former Ohio Governor and Senator George Voinovich, who has also endorsed Romney, are respected inside and outside of Ohio and could be Romney’s saving grace.
Voinovich served two terms as Governor in Ohio. He immediately went on to serve two terms in the U.S. Senate until he retired last year. He is especially beloved among Republicans for his days as Mayor of Cleveland, however. Voinovich served as Mayor directly after now-Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who nearly bankrupted Cleveland by refusing to pay back the city’s bank loans.
Portman, who won a landslide election in 2010 to the Voinovich’s old Senate seat, is rumored to be on Romney’s short list of potential Vice Presidential nominees. Portman represented Ohio’s second district in Congress until he was selected by George W. Bush to serve as U.S. Trade Representative and later as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Borges admitted Romney has a lot of work to do in a very short amount of time in Ohio, but he thinks the Great Lakes native will be able to pull it off in the end with the help of his Ohio surrogates.
“Absolutely it will be close,” he said. “I couldn’t sit here and argue that we’re going to run away with it.”