Scottsdale, AZ–Even as he continues to fight off challenges from an ever-changing troop of “flavor of the week” candidates, Mitt Romney’s organization appears to be gaining the type of support it most needs to win primaries–the support of conservative legislators.
Here, as the American Legislative Exchange Council (where I’m a policy advisor) holds its “States and Nation Policy Summit” at a resort in the Phoenix’s super-suburb of Scottsdale, Romney’s name is on everybody’s lips. And this means a lot.
While ALEC isn’t nearly the sinister, hyper-conservative secretive organization much of the organized Left makes it out to be (about 20 percent of members are Democrats) much of what goes on in the members-only task force meetings is pretty boring. However, its conferences are a very good place to take the pulse of right-of-center-state legislators nationally.
The media tracks endorsements for primary candidates in early primary states (Romney has the most on every list I’ve seen) but, for the most part, there’s no systemic list of endorsements elsewhere in the country. Indeed, focused as they are on winning early primaries, it’s quite possible that campaigns themselves don’t really keep such lists. That said, the number of such endorsements is a key indicator of how a candidate will do and ALEC legislators are a particularly good bellwether.
Quite simply, the types of people willing to travel long distances to meet (and, yeah, drink beer) with fellow legislators who they see mostly at conferences also tend to be the activist types: men and women who show up at every small town political meeting, constituents’ birthday parties and any other place they are invited. They’re also the key to mobilizing activists and getting out the vote during primaries. Except in a few big states, serving as legislator is a low-glamor job and the people who run for seats are often committed activists who can turn out primary voters.
At every meal I’ve attended, and in every conversation I’ve had about the elections, Romney’s name has come up. While two Iowa legislators seated at my lunch table were public Romney supporters (one had previously supported Pawlenty), I was surprised that every other legislator I spoke with at the table–a good national cross section–was either a formal Romney endorser or clearly leaning in the direction of supporting the former Massachusetts governor. Even the handful of people I met who support other candidates (Gingrich and Cain) seemed to accept the idea of a Romney nomination as more-or-less inevitable.
Political fireworks will likely continue for a while but, baring some dead-girl/live-boy type scandal, Romney seems to be doing a very good job getting support where it matters in primary contests.