Governor Mitt Romney joined a group of GOP governors at a Las Vegas rally for President Bush yesterday, kicking off a three-day tour to Missouri, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Iowa that may benefit Romney and Massachusetts as well as the president.
Romney and his traveling companions, Governors Kenny C. Guinn of Nevada and Mike Johanns of Nebraska, will be stumping strictly for Bush in Missouri and Michigan. But in Oklahoma City today, Romney will appear at a fund-raiser for an Oklahoma congressman who is chairman of a panel that doles out transportation money -- money the Bay State desperately desires for projects such as the next phase of Boston's Silver Line. Representative Ernest Istook is also an outspoken opponent of gay marriage who authored a bill that would ban same-sex marriage everywhere, including in Massachusetts.
And tomorrow, Romney will address the Iowa Republican Party's Ronald Reagan dinner. The organizers of the fourth annual fund-raising event say they invited Romney because he can share information about his home state senator, John F. Kerry. But Romney is often mentioned as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, and the event is likely to be attended by GOP bigwigs in a crucial caucus state.
''It will be interesting to see how he is received here," said Kristin Scuderi, a spokeswoman for the Iowa GOP.
Raising money for Istook may help Romney reinforce his conservative bona fides, a task that would be crucial in 2008 if he hopes to win over party stalwarts wary of a governor from Massachusetts. But Romney aides said yesterday they were not aware of Istook's activism on the gay marriage issue.
''Congressman Istook is an important player. He asked the governor to appear at an event for him, and the governor was more than happy to accept the invitation and oblige," said a Romney spokeswoman, Shawn Feddeman.
Kyle Loveless, Istook's campaign manager, said Romney and Istook have known each other for years, though he was uncertain about their connection. Loveless also said that gay marriage had nothing to do with Romney's appearance.
Though dozens of city and state leaders from Massachusetts have fanned out to stump for Kerry, the state Democratic Party chairman, Philip W. Johnston, criticized Romney for leaving the state to campaign for Bush. Johnston said ''it's perfectly legal for a governor to engage in political activity" but that Romney has crossed the line by ''allowing himself to be used as a pitbull for the Bush campaign against John Kerry."
Alex Dunn, a Romney political strategists, accused Johnston of employing a double standard. ''The criticism is coming from the same people who are traveling across the country to campaign for their choice for president," Dunn said. ''The governor, along with other Republican governors in the country, has been asked to help [Bush] campaign for a few days and he's answering the call."