Cover Story
Photos by Josh Reynolds/AP

Meet Team Romney

Campaign 2012 | Mitt Romney doesn't appear to have any breakout stars among his closest advisers, but together they form an aggressive group of loyalists who will not back down from political brawls

Issue: "The brain trust," June 30, 2012

On the last day of May, David Axelrod, the journalist-turned-strategist for Barack Obama, ventured into enemy territory. Standing on the steps of the Massachusetts State House in Boston surrounded by state Democrats, Axelrod tried to rip into Mitt Romney's record of job creation as governor.

But Axelrod ran into a noisy roadblock set up by operatives at Romney's campaign headquarters located in the city's nearby North End neighborhood.

When word of the event leaked the day before, Romney's staff plotted its own counterattack, sending an army of supporters to engage Axelrod in a war of words. The Romney staffers and volunteers chanted:

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"Broken Record!"

"We want Mitt!"


Axelrod pressed forward, pointing toward the crowd. "These may be his only voters right here," Axelrod said, referring to Romney.

Obama supporters cheered, "Forward." The Romney crowd replied, "Off a cliff." When a rattled Axelrod asked if anyone in the media had any questions, the Romney crowd shouted, "Where are the jobs?"

The statehouse sparring had an intensity unusual for this early in the campaign, but it signaled that Romney's team, after surviving a feisty primary season, is not going to back down from any Chicago-style politics unleashed by the Obama campaign.

Romney's top advisers, responsible for the quick reaction force sent out against Axelrod, are an eclectic mix that includes a Karl Rove protégé, a former state house reporter, a film executive, a chad counter, and a writer of travel books. This inner core, mostly gathered at Romney's three-story headquarters on Boston's Commercial Street, are loyalists who worked for Romney when he was governor, those who share Romney's Mormon faith, and a surprising number whose resumés include stints with former President George W. Bush.

Romney's team does not seem to contain anybody like Karl Rove, a star in his own right who formed his own political brand. Underscoring this, none of Romney's advisors accepted my repeated requests for interviews.

"We stay in the background," senior adviser Beth Myers told the Belmont Citizen Herald in January 2011. Top strategist Eric Fehrnstrom even claimed, in a March email to the Boston Globe, "People don't care about the hired help."

Myers and Fehrnstrom form part of the tight-knit group of Romney devotees who date back nearly 10 years ago to his days as governor. "Loyalty and being a team player are two of the most important requirements of being a part of Romney World," said Al Cardenas, the chairman of the American Conservative Union. "If you look at the top six or seven confidantes of the governor, the one common thread is that they have been together for a long time, and the governor feels equally comfortable reaching out to any one of them at any given time."

Raised in Upstate New York, Myers, 55, cut her political teeth campaigning in Texas for Ronald Reagan in 1980. There she served under up-and-coming strategist Rove. Myers earned a law degree from Southern Methodist University and relocated to Massachusetts where she worked in state politics. In 1998, she chose to stay at home and raise her two children. She began as a volunteer in Romney's 2002 campaign for governor. The lawyer-turned-mom made an impression with her research skills while playing the Democratic opponent against Romney in debate rehearsals.

After his victory, Romney tapped Myers to be his chief of staff, a role she filled for his entire term. She now heads Romney's search for a running mate. Romney mentioned Myers by name on the campaign trail in Michigan earlier this year. "When you find people like that who stick with you for a long time you say, 'OK. People who know him best who are close to him on a day-to-day basis stay with him and are loyal to him and I'm loyal to them,'" Romney said.

The Boston-born Fehrnstrom, 50, the campaign's chief media strategist, could be considered Romney's Axelrod. While Axelrod covered politics for the Chicago Tribune, Fehrnstrom spent nearly a decade as a journalist with the Boston Herald, rising to become the paper's State House bureau chief. He left a job at an advertising agency to join Romney, serving as communications director during Romney's four years as governor from 2003 to 2007.

These long ties helped Fehrnstrom survive what has been one of the campaign's signature gaffes. During a CNN interview on March 21, Fehrnstrom, talking about the positions Romney took during the primaries and how they could impact general election voters, said, "It's almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again."


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