Cover Story

Meet Team Romney

"Meet Team Romney" Continued...

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

With Romney already defending questions about the sincerity of his conservative views, political rivals like Rick Santorum seized on the comment and began appearing on stage with the toy that erases words and drawings with a shake. But, in an example of Romney's loyalty, Fehrnstrom faced no public repercussion and remains Romney's attack dog on television.

Peter Flaherty, 46, took a more circuitous route to Romney's inner circle: The murder of Flaherty's aunt in Boston when he was 7 years old planted the seeds that led Flaherty to prosecute homicide cases as a former assistant district attorney for Suffolk County, Mass. He left the prosecutor's office to take an executive position at Walden Media, a studio devoted to family films like The Chronicles of Narnia series that includes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian.

Flaherty jumped from entertainment to politics, serving as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Romney. An Irish Catholic, Flaherty has long been Romney's main liaison to social conservatives. He made sure Romney met with pro-life bioethicists and medical experts during the debate over embryonic stem-cell research in the Massachusetts legislature in 2004. Romney credits the meetings, where he learned about embryos created for experimentation and then destruction, with helping him convert to a pro-life position.

During the primary, Flaherty convinced five former ambassadors to the Vatican to back Romney publicly over his Catholic rivals. Flaherty met with and arranged for Romney to meet with social conservative leaders in Washington this spring.

This trio of Romney staffers from his governor's office banded together after his term ended to start The Shawmut Group, a Boston-based public-affairs consulting firm. The Shawmut group's highest-profile client not named Romney? A barely known state senator named Scott Brown, who surprised the political world by winning the 2010 special election for the U.S. Senate seat long held by late liberal icon Ted Kennedy.

While Romney aides from his governorship have yet to play leading roles in a presidential campaign's general election, more than two dozen veterans of George W. Bush's administration work or consult for the Romney campaign. These include Kevin Madden, the spokesman for Bush-Cheney 2004; Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security director; Margaret Spellings, Bush's secretary of education; Glenn Hubbard, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Bush; and several veterans of Bush's Justice Department.

Many of those are surrogates and policy consultants, but some Bush aides are now top Romney insiders. Matt Rhoades, Romney's campaign manager, joined the Bush White House as an associate director in the personnel office and then led the rapid-response team as research director for Bush's reelection efforts.

Rhoades, 37, is often described as the top strategy decision maker inside Romney's Boston headquarters. But don't expect him to become a television talking head like Rove or Democratic mastermind James Carville. Rhoades rarely travels with Romney and by all accounts enjoys life in the shadows. He almost lost his job at the Republican National Committee for being too quiet.

A 1997 Syracuse University graduate, Rhoades got his political start in Washington as an opposition researcher digging up dirt for the Republican National Committee. Dispatched to Florida for the 2000 recount, Rhoades, then 25, publicly accused a Democratic counter of eating a chad, the punch-card ballot piece designed to fall out when a voter makes a selection.

Stuart Stevens, Romney's main speechwriter and chief political strategist, is another veteran of the Bush-Cheney campaign. A Jackson, Miss., native who helped former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour win two elections, Stevens, 58, wrote about his time on Bush's 2000 campaign in The Big Enchilada, a book published in 2001.

"I still reveled in the sheer combat of campaigns, the smell of napalm in the morning and all that," wrote Stevens, who joined Romney during the 2008 primary after defecting from John McCain's campaign.

Politics is not Stevens' only writing subject: He has authored screenplays for television shows like Northern Exposure and books on China, Africa, and eating his way through Michelin three-star restaurants in Europe. He biked 450 miles along the Pyrenees Mountains and cross-country skied in the North Pole.

This spring the Romney campaign added to its inner circle another Bush alum: Ed Gillespie, the former Bush strategist and Republican National Committee chairman who is helping Romney deepen his ties with Washington insiders.

The Mormons on Romney's senior staff include fundraising head Spencer Zwick, 32, and a business partner with Romney's son Tagg, and former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt, tapped in early June to lead Romney's presidential transition team. Leavitt, who also served as Health and Human Services secretary under George W. Bush, a decade ago selected Romney to oversee the troubled 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Conservatives have criticized Leavitt for positive comments he made earlier this year about Obamacare.

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