Mitt Romney Emerges As A Player In Midterm Elections

The ex-presidential candidate is on the campaign trail, picking winners in a number of key primaries. He says his goal is to help the GOP have a great 2014, including seizing control of the Senate.

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And I'm David Greene. Mitt Romney is back. A little less than two years since his last run for president, Romney has reemerged as an active player in this year's midterm elections. He says he wants to support the Republican Party in meeting its 2014 goals. That includes taking control of the Senate. But Romney has broader goals as well.

He wants to help shape the future of a party that is divided between establishment and Tea Party factions. Romney's been busy making endorsements. He's been fundraising, doing campaign commercials, and he's been on the campaign trail. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea caught up with him in Iowa.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: You'd think that after two failed bids for the White House, after twice losing the Iowa caucuses to more conservative Republicans, after so many trips to the fairgrounds and countless pork chop dinners, that Mitt Romney would have had enough of the state of Iowa. But here he was, first thing Friday morning, in downtown Cedar Rapids.

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UNIDENTIFIED MAN: So let's welcome Governor Mitt Romney to Iowa.

GONYEA: Romney was campaigning with State Senator Joni Ernst, the frontrunner for the GOP U.S. Senate nomination, who got national attention for ads in which she talks of castrating hogs when she was a young girl growing up on the farm. Romney joked about that, but first he made time for just a bit of nostalgia.

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MITT ROMNEY: I have great friends here in this room, and I have friends from all over the state and all over the country. And I'm honored to be here with you and to tell you why it is I think Joni ought to be the next United States senator.

GONYEA: Romney's speech was short - barely five minutes. He got to the point quickly. Democrats currently hold the Iowa U.S. Senate seat being vacated by five-term incumbent Tom Harkin. Republicans see an opportunity for a pickup in the fall.

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ROMNEY: Because the road to real change and a Republican Senate and getting Harry Reid out of that chair he sits in, that road goes through Iowa.

GONYEA: The audience wasn't the size you'd see at a presidential campaign event. About 50 people showed up in Cedar Rapids, another hundred or so at noon in Davenport. Twenty-year-old community college student Scott Lawson says he'll be voting for Joni Ernst. But mostly, he was thrilled to see Romney.

SCOTT LAWSON: After what was a brutal campaign, a person that could come back in and help candidates get elected, it just speaks to the character of him and that he's a good and decent man, and a man that should've been the next president of the United States.

GONYEA: Forty-two-year-old Ralph Kendrick, an IT specialist, brought his two kids to the morning event. He was a Romney voter in 2012, so I asked if this endorsement means Kendrick is backing Joni Ernst.

RALPH KENDRICK: To be honest, to me, personally, no. I'll base it on what she says and what the other candidates say.

GONYEA: Kendrick said he was still undecided. Besides Iowa, Romney has been making endorsements in races around the country. He's put together a good track record so far. In all, he's endorsed some 20 candidates. Many are in states that haven't voted yet. Here's political analyst Larry Sabato's take on Romney's high visibility this year.

LARRY SABATO: Why should you go away just because you lose?

GONYEA: Sabato says it's a chance to refurbish his image, to show that he still matters.

SABATO: There's nothing disgraceful about losing an election. He's back out there in public. There are cheering crowds again. What's not to like?

GONYEA: Sabato also says not being a candidate is liberating, pointing to Romney's recent break with congressional GOP leaders by calling for boosting the minimum wage. I couldn't find anyone in the crowd in Cedar Rapids to support that position, but none spoke negatively of Romney because of it, either. Mitt Romney is a Chamber of Commerce Republican, but talking to reporters Friday in Cedar Rapids, he downplayed divisions within the GOP.

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ROMNEY: We Republicans are all the challengers, if you will. And we have different views about how to go after the big palace in Washington, if you will - the fortress in Washington. Some want to go through the front door. Some want to go over the wall. Some want to go through the windows. And so we have different approaches, but we're all battling against the establishment of the - Barack Obama and the Democratic party.

GONYEA: Supporters frequently asked Romney if he'll run for president again. He repeatedly insisted he has no such desire. And he did seem relaxed, even loose - a word you simply didn't hear to describe him back when he was looking for votes for himself. Don Gonyea, NPR News.

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