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Romney, McCain Tout New Backers

In the escalating behind-the-scenes battle between Arizona Sen. John McCain (R) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R), both men scored coups of a sort over the weekend.

Romney has landed Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Republican Congressman and Republican lobbyist with Clark & Weinstock, as an adviser to his presidential campaign, while McCain has secured the backing of Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R).

Weber, who will serve as chairman of Romney's policy committee, was one of the most prominent backers of McCain's presidential bid in 2000. In the intervening years, Weber has morphed into an adviser for the Bush White House. Weber's role in the Romney campaign will mirror the position Robert Zoellick held in President Bush's race in 2000, a sort of "policy guru-in-chief," according to one Romney insider, who added, "Someone of his stature can and will make a very prominent contribution to an already formidable campaign team." It goes without saying that winning an endorsement from one of the pillars of McCain's support inside the Beltway seven years ago gives the Romney team a special thrill.

McCain, meanwhile, secured the backing of Pawlenty who is widely seen as one of the rising stars within the Republican Party and a potential vice presidential pick. Pawlenty will serve as a national co-chair for McCain "should he decide to run" (wink, wink), according to a release.

"Senator McCain has been a strong leader and a common sense conservative in the U.S. Senate and will continue to be in the White House," said Pawlenty of his decision to back McCain.

Pawlenty joins Govs. Haley Barbour (Barbour has said good things about McCain but has yet to endorse), Jon Huntsman, Jr. (Utah) on McCain's side for 2008 -- giving him a midwestern and western governor as backers. Securing the support of governors is important to McCain for both pragmatic and symbolic reasons. Governors can be a key connection to money people in their states as well as grassroots activists. Their endorsement also serves as a not-so-subtle dig against Romney who not only served as chief executive of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts but also chaired the Republican Governors Association in the 2006 cycle.

The one-upsmanship between McCain and Romney is a fascinating study in the bare-knuckled politics of the presidential nomination and bears watching throughout the year.

By Chris Cillizza  |  January 15, 2007; 12:06 PM ET
Categories:  Eye on 2008  
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