WASHINGTON - One is a top Iowa lawmaker, another a South Carolina political strategist and a third is a former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.
All have signed on as part of Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s political team in anticipation of his presidential bid.
The Republican is expected to announce in January he will run for the White House, and he’s already assembling a far-flung team. The list includes some big names who combined have decades of experience running presidential and other high-profile political races.
“I think he’s been able to attract to his team some really top-notch people,” says Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Romney supporter and adviser.
While Romney’s Mormon faith is expected to be a big hurdle in his race, his campaign is not stocked with those of his own religion.
There’s a broad spectrum of faiths.
Romney’s front man for the media, Jared Young, for example, is a Southern Baptist who graduated from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University.
The Commonwealth PAC declined to say how many Mormons were on staff, and Young said he actually didn’t know the specific faith of many people on Romney’s team because the governor has no religious litmus test.
“Governor Romney and the Commonwealth PAC look to hire the best-qualified people regardless of their religious background or beliefs,” Young said in a statement.
Running a presidential campaign takes hundreds of people spread across the nation to press the candidate’s message and attract financial backers. Romney has about 15 to 20 core staffers, according to his PAC, in addition to a field of advisers and consultants.
The PAC has started announcing team members in the last few months, stepping up his appointments just recently. Last week, Romney named nine new team members.
“It’s important to have an all-star team,” says Scott McLean, chairman of the political science department at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut.
“When you have people that are recognizable to the Republican Party elite then you have a good solid basis for making the claim that you’re a serious candidate; that you’re not a protest candidate, or trying to make a point, that you’re really running to win,” McLean says.
Among Romney’s recent picks are Sally Bradshaw, a top political adviser to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush; Barbara Comstock, a former strategist for the Republican National Committee; Glenn Hubbard, a former chairman of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers; and Greg Mankiw, also a former chairman of the CEA and a Harvard economics professor.
The latter two recruits say more about Romney’s policy than public relations, says Raymond J. La Raja, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts- Amherst.
The important thing is “what those big names suggest about his politics and strategy,” says La Raja. “With Hubbard and Mankiw he is clearly trying to seize the mantle of a mainstream Republican on economics.”
Romney has made a controversial hire, a media consultant once referred to as the Republican Party’s “ultimate hit man.”
Alex Castellanos was described as one of the “fathers of the modern attack ad,” in a Salon profile. In one of his more infamous ads, Castellanos made a commercial for Jeb Bush’s 1994 Florida gubernatorial campaign. The spot featured the mother of a young murder victim accusing Bush’s opponent of refusing to sign the killer’s death warrant. Left out of the ad was that the case was still under appeal and not subject to such a warrant.
U.S. House Majority Leader John Boehner’s office also announced this week his spokesman, Kevin Madden, is leaving to join the Commonwealth PAC. Madden was a spokesman for former Majority Leader Tom Delay.
Romney has also bulked up his fundraising team. A previous count by Fox News showed nearly three-dozen of those supporting Romney are former Pioneers or Rangers for the Bush-Cheney campaigns, a designation for people who raised $100,000 or $200,000, respectively, for the camp.
Eric Tanenblatt is one of those former Rangers. A former chief of staff to Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, he joined Romney’s team as a volunteer last week to help head up Romney’s southern advisory team.
Tanenblatt, who is Jewish, says he was attracted to work for Romney because he is the “right person to lead our country” and he doesn’t see any Mormon-centrism in Romney’s team or strategy.
Romney does have some Mormons on his team, including top adviser Spencer Zwick, whose father, Craig Zwick, is a general authority of the LDS Church. Zwick also is a holdover from the Salt Lake Olympic committee.
Another former Olympic aide and current Romney consultant is Don Stirling, a Utah Mormon whose e-mails leaked to The Boston Globe raised questions about whether Romney’s advisers were trying to enlist the LDS Church to promote his potential candidacy. Romney and church officials denied any collusion.
Tom Rath, a former attorney general of New Hampshire and a Roman Catholic, has also joined Romney’s team. He says Romney’s faith wasn’t a big concern when he decided to back the governor. “To me he’s a man of faith and a man of principle,” Rath said.
“The team around him - this is a group that knows how to get it done,” Rath says. “It’s a good mix of grizzled-old hoots like me and a lot of young people who understand the technology.”