- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2015

Mitt Romney’s decision to sit out the next presidential race moves one of the GOP’s biggest anchors to the past, and the party’s fresh faced hopefuls are already scrambling to take advantage.

“People want new fresh leadership with big, bold, ideas, and the courage to act on them,” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.” “And if we are going to take on a name from the past, which is likely be former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, I think, for the party, we need a name from the future.”

Mr. Romney on Friday told supporters he wouldn’t mount a third bid for the White House, just a few weeks after telling them he was interested. The departure of the party’s 2012 nominee from the field left the various nascent campaigns working to try to win the well-connected staff, financiers and political backers who had been awaiting a Romney decision.

GOP analysts say the early shakeup could help Jeb Bush court some of Mr. Romney’s supporters from 2012, but say it also could make it tougher for Mr. Bush, whose famous family makes him the only remaining candidate with deep ties to the Republican Party’s past — a history many primary voters appear eager to forget.

“Outside of Bush it is going to be harder for old blood to break through,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “And even in Jeb’s case he has to be Jeb, not Bush. GOP voters are looking for something new to rally around particularly with Hillary waiting in the wings.”

Mr. Romney himself seemed to push his fellow Republicans in that direction in his announcement.

“I believe that one of our next generation of Republican leaders, one who may not be as well known as I am today, one who has not yet taken their message across the country, one who is just getting started, may well emerge as being better able to defeat the Democrat nominee,” Mr. Romney said. “In fact, I expect and hope that to be the case.”

Mr. Bush, whose last competitive election was when he won re-election as Florida governor in 2002, finds a GOP significantly different than that one. Its primary electorate is arguably more conservative and on policies, the party has tilted decidedly rightward on immigration, while Mr. Bush leans left on that issue.

Meanwhile the tea party movement, which was in part a rebellion against his brother, President George W. Bush, has spawned a number of 2016 hopefuls, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Mr. Bush has argued he can be a forward-looking agent of change even as he can run on his record in Florida.

“It is to challenge every aspect of how government works — how it taxes, how it regulates, how it spends — to open up economic opportunity for all, ” Mr. Bush said. “To achieve earned success, Americans also have to have the skills to do so. This means fixing our tired education system and bringing job training into the 21st century.”

Political insiders said Mr. Romney’s exit from the race could also could given New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie a bounce, and his allies say that some of the big donors that were waiting on Mr. Romney have already swung their support to Mr. Christie.

For now, Mr. Walker appears to be best positioned to take advantage of the wide-open field.

The latest Des Moines Register poll released over the weekend showed that Mr. Walker, who received rave reviews at the Iowa Freedom Summit just over a week ago, leads the pack at 15 percent, followed by Mr. Paul at 14 percent.

The survey reinforced the idea that Mr. Walker has broad appeal within the party, showing that he is a top two pick of caucusgoers that want an establishment candidate and those who want an anti-establishment standard-bearer for the party.

“He’s in a sweet spot,” pollster J. Ann Selzer told the Des Moines Register. “People who don’t want an ultra-conservative think he’s OK. People who don’t want a moderate think he’s OK.”

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