BELMONT, Mass. — Don’t bet on Mitt Romney winning his home state. Or even trying.
“That’s not been a topic of discussion,” Romney campaign adviser Kevin Madden said when asked if the Republican former Massachusetts governor would compete in the heavily Democratic state.
Romney was never a hero in the liberal bastion, and aides said there are other ways he can win the White House and deny President Barack Obama a second term without the 11 electoral votes Massachusetts offers.
The fact that Romney likely cannot win Massachusetts — and probably won’t even try to — illustrates the degree to which his currying favor with conservative Republicans in GOP presidential primaries has alienated the moderate base that launched his political career.
If Romney defeats Obama while losing Massachusetts, he would be the first presidential candidate elected without carrying his home state since before the Civil War. James K. Polk lost Tennessee en route to the White House — 168 years ago.
In 2000, Democrat Al Gore, who had spent years in Washington as a senator and vice president, fell short of winning Tennessee in his losing White House bid. Other notable home-state losers include Democrats Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota in 1968 and Adlai Stevenson of Illinois in 1952 and 1956. Republicans need to go back to 1936 to find a nominee who didn’t carry his home state: Kansas Gov. Alf Landon.
Romney aides argue that it would be a waste of money to run TV ads and compete in a state Obama carried by 25 percentage points in 2008.
Some Massachusetts residents agree, feeling that their former governor used the state as a springboard for his national political ambitions. And some seem to resent him for it. “He doesn’t know where he lives,” said Mike Egan, a retired independent sitting at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Belmont.
While Romney’s permanent address is the home he keeps in this upscale Boston suburb, he spends considerable time at his homes in California and New Hampshire.
Egan and others said Romney seemed to have his eye on the White House as soon as he arrived at the Massachusetts State House in 2003. The following year, he made his first trip to Iowa, home of the leadoff presidential caucuses, to speak at the state GOP’s fall banquet some weeks before President George W. Bush’s re-election.
He would visit Iowa three times in 2005 and nine times in 2006. That year, Romney spent 212 days outside of Massachusetts. One trip included a visit to Iraq and Afghanistan to enhance his international credentials, just as his state grappled with a devastating flood. “By the time he left, it became clear to everybody that he was committed to national politics,” said Massachusetts Republican Sheldon Binder, a retiree who supported Romney.
Republicans had held the governorship for 12 straight years by the time Romney took office in 2003. Voters were comfortable supporting candidates with right-of-center fiscal profiles. And Romney’s moderate profile, including support of abortion and gay rights, fit in with other Republicans.
But some in Massachusetts were turned off by what they saw as Romney’s effort to project a more conservative profile on hot-button issues, in part to prepare to court socially conservative activists in states such as Iowa that hold early nominating contests in election years.