BOSTON — Mitt Romney is currently vetting possible running mates for his presidential campaign. It’s not the first time the presumptive Republican nominee has gone through such a search.
It was April 2002. Massachusetts Republicans found themselves with two candidates for lieutenant governor: Jim Rappaport and Kerry Healey. Rappaport won the endorsement of the Republican state convention, but despite having promised to stay neutral in the race, Mitt Romney chose to get up on stage with Healey. The memory still rankles Rappaport.
“It was totally inappropriate, because I had won the convention, and convincingly. So when he stood up, they actually got booed at the convention. When he brought her up like that, they actually got booed,” remembers Rappaport.
A Meeting Of Olympic Importance
Romney’s walk onto that convention stage with Healey had its origin in their first meeting when he was running the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“She and her husband, Sean, were out to see the Olympics, and stopped by my office to say hello, and wish me well,” Romney said in 2006.
In an interview with WBUR four years later, Romney added that it was that meeting that led him to choose Healey as his running mate in 2002. But that meeting was not, as Romney made it sound, just a social visit — it was a meeting about Romney’s political future. Republicans were concerned that they had a weak acting governor in Jane Swift. One of those Republicans, attorney Neil Chayet, had flown to Salt Lake City to meet with Romney, in part to ask him whether he would consider running for governor.
“When we landed at the Salt Lake City airport, right there at the baggage claim, as I recall, we ran into Kerry Healey, who was also up there to attend the Olympics. [I] talked to Kerry, and told her that we were going to see Mitt. She suggested would she be able to come along and we were delighted, because she was chairperson of the party,” Chayet says.
Chayet says Healey explained the political situation in Massachusetts to Romney, and he took to the idea of running for governor.
“She talked a lot about our party, and he was very responsive, and we got into quite a bit of [the] details.”
Chayet remembers that the little group from Massachusetts was with Romney for well over an hour. They even talked about who would be involved in Romney’s campaign.
“Mitt was obviously impressed with Kerry at that meeting,” says Chayet.
‘The Right Ticket For November Is Not Going To Be 2 Very Wealthy Men’
Meanwhile, Jim Rappaport was already running for lieutenant governor, and he had spent the past few months talking to Romney. He assumed he would be Romney’s running mate.
“[Romney] couldn’t personally support me, because he had made a commitment to the Olympic Committee that he wouldn’t get involved in politics, so his wife wrote me a check of support,” Rappaport says.
It was a check for $500.
“And he said ‘Why don’t you run for governor?’ ”
But Rappaport told Romney he wanted to help Romney become governor. Rappaport says when Romney came back from Salt Lake City to announce that he was running, the two men met in Belmont.
“I actually met with him at his house,” says Rappaport.
But Romney’s team was already worried about several aspects of Rappaport’s candidacy. Brian Cresta wasn’t on that team, but as a former chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party, he was watching with great interest.
“I believe that the Romney campaign looked at this and said that the right ticket for November is not going to be two very wealthy men,” says Brian Cresta.
Cresta says there was another problem with Rappaport that made him a poor fit to become Romney’s running mate: Rappaport liked to grab the limelight.
“Jim Rappaport was not showing the signs of ‘I want to be your second-in-command. I want to be your loyal lieutenant,’ ” says Cresta. “I think there was a belief that at the time that instead of being a loyal lieutenant, he could have been a distraction.”
A third problem presented itself when Swift dropped out of the race. It was so clear Romney was going to run that she stepped back. In fact, he announced that he was running within hours of her pulling out.
A Delicate Vetting Process
Romney’s team soon decided that he needed a woman as his running mate. That’s how Rappaport saw it.
“And part of his people’s thinking, and I’m not sure how much of it was Mitt’s, and it may or may not have been Bob White’s, who was his longtime partner at Bain, but it was clearly Mike Murphy’s, who was his Washington consultant, that because it appeared as though he had forced a woman out of the governor’s race, that his people were looking for a woman as a running mate,” says Rappaport.
Mike Murphy sent an email to WBUR saying that’s “not at all accurate,” but he offered no further comment. The Romney campaign would not make White available for an interview. But Cresta, the former party chairman, had the same impression of Romney’s dilemma.
“He had to be careful that he was not seen as pushing a woman out the door,” says Cresta.
The Romney team approached several women, including Karyn Polito, who ran for state treasurer last year. But Cresta points out that of all the women, Healey had the most going for her.
“I think it wasn’t lost on the Romney campaign that she was going to have the financial ability to compete against Jim Rappaport who was going to have a lot of personal wealth to put into the race if needed,” he says.
Former Romney adviser Murphy says Healey was the “best choice for several reasons,” but would not say what they were. Cresta says the campaign did pick Healey for more than just her husband’s fortune.
“She really, truly understood, and still does, to this day understands policy and how it affects people,” says Cresta. “I think she had a very compelling life story, growing up in a very typical middle-class family, and then I think Kerry always had and still does has an ability to connect with people.”
With Romney’s help, Healey came from behind. On primary night, Rappaport called Healey to concede.
“He was very gracious,” said Healey on the night she won the primary, “and we will work together to put this party back on the right footing. Absolutely. Yeah. Well, they said it couldn’t be done. But guess what? We just did it!”
“It pointed out a major failing of their vetting process and their decision process to pick somebody who, frankly, would not have been able to be an extraordinarily effective governor if she’d gotten in,” says Rappaport, who says that Romney made the wrong choice in 2002.
WBUR asked Healey if we could talk to her for this story, and she said she needed to coordinate the interview through the Romney campaign. But the Romney campaign refused several requests to let her to talk to WBUR.