The White House has told Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Mitt Romney to make the ongoing controversy surrounding his legal, permanent residency "go away," says a White House political operative. "We pushed for Romney to get into this race because he could win. This controversy will just dog him and will hurt him if he lets it fester."
No sooner did Romney get the call from presidential special adviser Karl Rove last Tuesday than Romney announced that he was returning the $54,000 tax rebate he received from Utah earlier this year. The controversy stems from Romney's 2001 tax returns, in which he listed his Utah condominium as his primary residence. Utah state residents get a tax break if they stay in the state for much of the year.
Democrats seized on the tax filing as evidence that Romney no longer considered Massachusetts his home state, even though Romney filed Massachusetts tax returns for each of the past three years that saw him head the 2002 Winter Olympics project in Utah. "Romney seemed surprised by the stories, and he wasn't moving fast enough to make it go away," says the White House staffer. "Sometimes these guys need a little kick in the [behind] to snap out of it and resolve it."
Despite inside the Beltway buzz about a possible Senate bid in California by current national security adviser Condoleezza Rice forget about it. While Barbara Boxer may be the weaker of California's two Democratic senators, Karl Rove and President Bush aren't about to let the valuable Rice go.
Instead, Rove and Senate Republicans will be on the lookout for a potential moderate to conservative to challenge Boxer in 2004. "Perhaps it's finally Chris Cox," says a Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee staffer. But the view on Capitol Hill is that Cox will be increasingly more valuable to the House, and that while he could probably raise the necessary funds to mount a credible if not superior campaign against Boxer, it's unlikely he will want to.
Conservatives inside the state are already considering Bill Simon, Jr., who has thus far run a satisfactory campaign against Gov. Gray Davis, but who isn't expected to have enough in his rookie campaign tank to pull off an upset of the incumbent. Instead, he may have upped his name recognition and political skills to make another run at higher office. "From the Senate, Simon could run for governor again, as Pete Wilson did," says the RSCC source. "If that was what he was inclined to do, but it's not clear Simon is interested long term in politics. He may walk away after the way the state party has treated him."
Regardless, it would require desperate times in the Senate and the White House to force Rove's hand to put one of the administration's stars up against a sitting senator. "I just don't see it," says a White House political source about a Rice Senate candidacy. "I just don't see Rove letting her go, especially during a presidential election year. We need her in the White House on our team."
As for the shabby treatment of Bill Simon by the California Republican Party, the man behind it is Gerald Parsky, Karl Rove's pick to oversee the Golden State GOP who has virtually ignored Simon. Some White House political staffers are beginning to nose around a small, supposed grassroots group based out of Los Angeles, Republicans for Davis. It's unclear who started the group, and who has provided it with seed money, but there are suspicions that it was set up by some senior GOP officials who opposed Simon's candidacy, and who remain angry that he beat former L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan in the GOP primary last March. "If we find out that state party officials are behind this group," says a Republican National Committee member from California, "heads are going to have to roll, and it's going to be very public. There is some evidence to indicate that very senior state GOP officials are giving aid and comfort to Davis. The party out there is mess. Rove has to clean it up."