Golden Mitt

Mitt Romney, Massachusetts Governor, 11-24-03
This column was written by Michael M. Rosen.
California is not a swing state but a "swung" state: It has bestowed its 55 electoral votes on Democrats in every presidential election since 1988. Before '88, it elected Republican presidents six straight times.

The Golden State, then, has shifted reliably into the Democratic column, so much so that it's now taken for granted by the Party of Jackson.

Therein lies a glimmer of opportunity for the GOP, though. If a Republican candidate could land California, or even come close, he could wreak havoc at the DNC. This horrific prospect has provided dramatic fodder for The West Wing's current season, where a (moderate) Republican senator from California is the favorite to capture his home state and with it the presidency.

Could life imitate art? Possibly, if Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has anything to say about it. Romney recently paid a visit to the Golden State to participate in the meeting of the Republican Governors' Association, of which he was named chairman.

I heard him speak at a meeting of the Fairbanks Republican Women Federated (FRWF), one of the most successful groups of its kind. His movie-star-handsome looks render him instantly appealing, at least superficially, in a state like California.

But Romney's potential appeal to residents of our most populous state runs deeper than appearances. Although he is increasingly socially conservative, Romney's background and governing style — not to mention the fawning profiles that have graced the pages of both liberal and conservative magazines — suggest he might command support in California.

For one thing, the Massachusetts governor is a minority in more ways than one. As a Mormon and as a Republican in a Democratic state, he can relate to feelings of alienation from the mainstream, an ability that will promote at least a perception of his tolerance and openness — both musts in California. Perceptions matter — again, especially in California — and anything that may undercut a simplistic dismissal of him as Yet Another White Man will help. Perhaps unwittingly, Romney uses phrases like "tiny minority position" to describe his political situation.

Furthermore, his ability to run a state successfully despite the overwhelming political odds stacked against him will stand him well in a state where another Republican governor faces a similar predicament. The Massachusetts legislature is 85-percent Democratic; its entire congressional delegation are Democrats. Romney calls himself "a red speck in a blue state," which is another way of saying that he's able to maintain his redness while still working with the blue around him.

And indeed the governor's experience as chief executive of Massachusetts has been largely successful. He touts practical solutions that he arrived at in conjunction with the legislature, such as reforming the way the homeless are sheltered — namely, scrapping the wasteful hotel program and helping them find long-term residences — and jiggering the educational system to foster progress in math and science (on a 2005 national test, Bay State students ranked first or tied for first in math and most other subjects).