- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2012

While some Democrats have made it clear that they would rather not be seen with President Obama on the campaign trail this fall, likely Republican nominee Mitt Romney doesn’t appear to face the same problem.

From conservative Republicans in the South to moderates in the Northeast to endangered freshmen out West, Republican lawmakers this week told The Washington Times they would welcome the chance to campaign alongside the former Massachusetts governor, who has all but locked up the nomination.

“Certainly, I’d be happy to,” said Sen. Scott P. Brown of Massachusetts, who is fighting off a tough re-election challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren in one of the nation’s most liberal states. “He’s one of the nicest, honest, hardworking men I’ve ever met. When it comes to the economic issues, there is nobody that can compete with his ability to solve problems.”

Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada didn’t miss a beat when asked whether he would like to have Mr. Romney at his side in his race against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

“I hope he spends a lot of time in Nevada,” said Mr. Heller, who is in his first race since his state’s Republican governor appointed him to the seat resigned last year by John Ensign under the cloud of an extramarital affair.

“This president clearly doesn’t understand and has proven over the last 3 1/2 years that he doesn’t understand how this economy works, and I believe that’s what Gov. Romney brings to the table. He understands finances, he understands the economy and he understands what it’s going to take to turn it around and provide jobs for Nevada and solve the bankruptcy problems we have in the state,” Mr. Heller said.

Of the more than half-dozen Republicans contacted by The Times, not one either refused to comment or said he would not appear with Mr. Romney.

Despite that, the Obama campaign noted that some Republican lawmakers have distanced themselves from Mr. Romney.

“Whether it’s [Michigan Gov. Rick] Snyder criticizing Romney’s ‘Let Detroit go bankrupt’ approach to the auto industry, or Sen. Heller running for the hills when Romney made clear he would let the foreclosure process ‘hit the bottom,’ it’s clear that Gov. Romney tacked too far to the right for even many Republicans around the country,” said Ben LaBolt, Obama campaign spokesman.

Mr. Snyder is not running this cycle, and he would not need to seek re-election until 2014. He endorsed Mr. Romney for the Republican presidential nomination in February, during the run-up to Michigan’s primary and appeared at a Romney rally on the day he made his endorsement public.

It is a different story on the other side of the congressional aisle, where some rank-and-file Democrats have ducked public appearances with Mr. Obama — particularly since, for the first time in his political career, Mr. Obama has begun receiving consistently mediocre public-approval ratings.

Look no further than Sen. Mark L. Pryor of Arkansas, who, despite not being up for re-election until 2014, said last week that he doesn’t plan to actively campaign for Mr. Obama, the leader of his party.

“As much as I may love all of our presidents, I just don’t really get involved in those races. My view is, Democrat, Republican, it doesn’t matter, my view is I’m in Washington to try to work with people,” Mr. Pryor told thecitywire.com, a local website.

This isn’t happening only in conservative states such as Arkansas, where Mr. Obama has little chance of winning in November. Some high-profile Democrats in key presidential swing states also are avoiding his embrace.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, who is up for re-election, was in Ohio when Mr. Obama visited earlier this year, but did not appear with him when he delivered a speech at a high school outside Cleveland. Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, also up for re-election, was absent from two private fundraisers that the president held in her state late last year.

That could be a good omen for Mr. Romney as he transitions into general-election mode after a bruising primary race where his rivals held up his support in Massachusetts of an individual mandate to buy health insurance and his shifting positions on abortion and gun rights as proof that he lacks core convictions on the issues that matter most to conservatives.

“A key indicator of presidential popularity is, ‘Who wants to be seen with the nominee?’ ” said Darrell M. West, director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution. “Romney has an advantage over Obama in that more Republicans want to be seen with him than Democrats who will campaign with Obama. Despite all the nomination skirmishes, Republicans will end up quite united in opposing the Democrats. The GOP will have few internal differences.”

Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, Ohio Republican, shared that sentiment.

“There may be some Republicans that think he’s not their cup of tea. But as I begin to read the tea leaves in some of the stories, it looks like even those that might have thought he was a Massachusetts moderate are coming around to be supportive,” Mr. LaTourette said.

That was on display this week as some of the party’s more conservative voices said they wouldn’t mind being close to Mr. Romney on the campaign trail.

Reps. Steve King of Iowa and Rob Woodall of Georgia said they had no problem with the ex-governor campaigning in their districts, just minutes after attending a news conference in which they advocated for the “fair tax” — a national sales-tax proposal that Mr. Romney opposes, instead favoring a flatter income tax.

For them and likely for other conservative members of Congress, their support for Mr. Romney was solidified once he became their party’s leader as presumptive nominee.

“I have said for a long time that I will enthusiastically support our nominee,” Mr. King said. “I said it while I considered who it might be and on that list is Mitt Romney … and he is the most likely to be the nominee today. I’d look forward to standing at a podium or on a stage anywhere with the next president of the United States.”

Others were more tongue-in-cheek about rallying to Mr. Romney’s side.

“If you’re not sure about wanting to support Mitt Romney, whether you are liberal, whether you are very conservative, you ought to be excited because he has been on your side at one time or another,” Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican, said at a “Conversations With Conservatives” event on Capitol Hill, later adding that he is less excited about Mr. Romney than he is desperate to get rid of Mr. Obama.