WASHINGTON - Presidential candidate Mitt Romney may be the former governor of Massachusetts, but his campaign is bristling with prominent Minnesota Republicans.
Former Sen. Norm Coleman is joining the campaign as a senior policy adviser. When he gets there he'll see other familiar faces: Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, fresh from his own recent presidential effort, is Romney's national co-chairman and chief surrogate. Former Congressman Vin Weber, a longtime Washington lobbyist and political operative, is also a senior adviser.
Electability is cited
The Minnesota GOP's gravitational pull toward Romney comes at a difficult time for Rep. Michele Bachmann, who despite a strong start in Iowa has seen her presidential star dim amid staff upheaval and fading poll numbers. While frontrunners Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry have been trumpeting VIP endorsements in recent weeks, Bachmann has done little if any of that. Some Minnesota GOP operatives say that while she has some strong conservative support in the Minnesota Legislature, her backers appear to be staying on the sidelines.
In joining the Romney team, Coleman cited the former governor's electability and executive experience, something Pawlenty tried to emphasize in some of his sharpest exchanges with Bachmann, a three-term House member and former state senator.
"The bottom line is I firmly believe he [Romney] offers the best chance of beating President Obama," Coleman said. "I say that with great respect for the other candidates. I'm a huge fan of Michele Bachmann. She brings so much to the table and she's an important voice in our party."
Political analysts say Coleman's move toward Romney was little surprise. "Romney is an 80-90 percent conservative, so is Norm," said Carleton College political scientist Steven Schier. "Bachmann is 110 percent."
One of Bachmann's most prominent Minnesota backers, Hubbard broadcasting chief Stan Hubbard, considers himself a "very right wing" independent and says his support is something less than a formal endorsement.
"First of all, I don't endorse anybody," Hubbard said Wednesday. "Secondly, Bachmann is the congresswoman from our district, she lives here, she's local, and I support our local people. I supported [former Vice President Walter] Mondale, and I support Bachmann."
Hubbard also supported Pawlenty in the 2012 nomination contest, until the former governor succumbed to Bachmann's victory in last month's Iowa straw poll.
'Is extremely telling'
Pawlenty also had the backing of Reps. John Kline and Erik Paulsen. Rep. Chip Cravaack was the only Minnesota Republican in the House who did not pick sides in the Pawlenty vs. Bachmann phase of the race.
Since Pawlenty dropped out, none of those three Republican congressmen from Minnesota has publicly endorsed any GOP presidential candidate.
The dearth of top-shelf GOP endorsements for Bachmann in Minnesota could be a reflection of her image as a Tea Party maverick willing to take on her own party leaders, Schier said. "That no prominent Minnesota Republican has endorsed her is extremely telling."
Still, Romney didn't nab everyone. Lucas Baiano, the filmmaker behind Pawlenty's action-hero campaign videos, is now churning out the same for Romney's chief rival, Perry.
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.