Romney 3.0 sparks new presidential competition

STEVE PEOPLES
Associated Press

Des Moines, Iowa – — A shake-out among fiery conservatives with White House ambitions was always a sure thing. Now it appears the competition among the more establishment-minded GOP candidates for president will end up just as fierce.

With Mitt Romney’s move in the past week toward launching a third run for president, there are three high-profile Republicans from the party’s mainstream suddenly competing for the same group of elite donors and staffing talent, just as the crowded 2016 presidential primary season begins.

And that list — Romney, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush — doesn’t even include a group of Midwestern governors, led by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, who also fit the mold of accomplished, economic-minded executives driven as much by a pragmatic approach to governing as their conservative ideology.

“We’ve never seen anything remotely like it,” said Rick Wilson, a Florida-based Republican consultant who has advised presidential campaigns.

The abundance of Republican presidential prospects who put economic policy ahead of social issues comes after GOP congressional leaders succeeded last year in beating back primary challenges from farther-right, tea party-affiliated candidates on their way to reclaiming control of the Senate.

It also sets up a potential contest of mainstream Republicans not seen since 2000, when George W. Bush was the favorite in a crowded field, or 1988, when then-Vice President George H. W. Bush was the heavy favorite.

Not one of the ambitious Republicans has formally entered the race yet. But more than a dozen candidates are preparing for what is widely seen as a once-in-a-generation opportunity — an open White House and no Republican heir apparent with a claim to the nomination. The group features no shortage of conservatives with untested mainstream appeal, including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, a Detroit native.

Carson joins Romney on the agenda at this week’s Republican National Committee winter meeting in San Diego, where another cultural conservative favorite, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and Wisconsin’s Walker are also slated to appear. Other would-be presidential contenders are sending senior aides.