Mitt Romney’s return: Moderate Republicans similar to the former presidential candidate may win in New England and elsewhere.

The Next Mitt Romney

The Next Mitt Romney

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 31 2014 1:59 PM

The Next Mitt Romney

Even if Mitt never runs again, don’t worry. A number of Romney clones may be elected on Tuesday.

Mitt Romney
Mitt’s political spirit lives on in the Northeast.

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Mitt Romney is not going gentle into that good night. Despite the rough ending of his presidential bid, he’s been busy in Republican Party politics, crisscrossing the country to campaign for rising stars and keeping his public profile high. He also made a number of significant endorsements during primary season, and his endorsees had much better outcomes than Sarah Palin’s. His busy national media schedule has stoked rumors that he’s even considering another presidential bid in 2016—rumors that he and his wife have flatly discounted. President or not, Romney is omnipresent.

But if you wish he was still in some sort of elected office, fear not: A few New England states could—maybe—elect three new Romneyesque, socially moderate, technocratic Republican governors on Tuesday. Winning a statewide race as a Republican in New England is no day at the beach, but if things go the GOP’s way, then a fresh new crop of Mitts could spring up on the East Coast.

First off is Charlie Baker. He’s following Romney’s footsteps very closely, as he’s gunning for the former presidential contender’s old job as governor of Massachusetts. Baker jumps at every opportunity to tout his social moderation; he told Boston Globe columnist Yvonne Abraham that he’s “to the left of Barack Obama” on the social issues that have historically electrified Republicans’ socially conservative base. Romney took similar steps to tout his Bay State–friendly position on abortion when he was running for governor, promising to “preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose” in a debate. (He later walked back that position, of course.)

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Unlike Romney, Baker favors gay marriage. He often brings up his gay brother when he talks about his support for gay rights. In a debate, he drew applause after challenging a long-shot candidate who suggested homosexuality was a “sexual perversion.” The RealClearPolitics polling average gives him a 4.2 percentage point lead over Democratic nominee Martha Coakley, so Baker’s strategy may be working. It doesn’t hurt that Coakley is a notoriously ineffective campaigner. It also doesn’t hurt that if you squint, Baker looks a tiny bit like Robert Redford.

Then there’s Allan Fung, the Republican running for governor in Rhode Island. His contest has drawn far less national attention than Baker’s, but RCP rates it a toss-up. RCP’s David Byler explains that the state’s sizable population of independent voters is open to Republicans’ overtures. On top of that, Rhode Island is one of the most Catholic states in America, and Gina Raimondo, Fung’s Democratic opponent, drew biting criticism from the bishop of Providence after she promised to repeal the state’s partial-birth abortion ban. Fung’s stance on abortion, in contrast, is right out of the Romney 2002 playbook: pro-choice, but not too pro-choice. Naturally, Romney visited Little Rhody to endorse him earlier this month. Fung is having a tougher time than Baker, but a win wouldn’t be totally shocking, especially given that Rhode Island hasn’t elected a Democratic governor since 1990.

The Connecticut governor’s race, which could also produce a Romney-type, is as close as humanly possible; RCP gives Republican Tom Foley a whopping 0.5 percentage point lead in their polling average over incumbent Democratic Gov. Dannel Malloy. Like Romney, Foley has a venture capital background and a striking pair of sideburns. This race is a rematch, as Foley lost to Malloy by less than one point in the 2010 race for governor. Foley is running on a technocratic platform that includes lowering the sales tax, dialing back regulations, and “improved IT to make government more productive.” One could convincingly argue that Tom Foley is a platonic archetype of Mitt Romney and that he is more like Mitt Romney than Mitt Romney is like himself.

Two last addendums: First, not all New England Republican gubernatorial candidates are social moderates. Paul LePage, the incumbent in Maine, is about as pro-life as possible. He’s also highly vulnerable. If he loses on Tuesday, that’s likely to have a chilling effect on other pro-life candidates looking to compete statewide in the Northeast.

And second, not all pro-choice Republicans are in New England. Monica Wehby, the Republican Senate nominee in Oregon who will definitely lose on Tuesday, says that abortion “is a personal decision between a woman and her family, not a woman and the federal government,” per Oregon Live. Like Wehby, Illinois Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner demonstrates zero interest in making it harder to get an abortion. Unlike Wehby, he’s actually running a competitive campaign.

Romney’s days as a governor may be long gone, but his spirit lives on, at least through Tuesday.