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Book claims GOP wanted 'white knight' candidate

| Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, 5:27 p.m.

Republican governors and other party elders grew so alarmed by Mitt Romney's inability to defeat Rick Santorum midway through the Republican primaries that they secretly hatched a “white-knight scenario” to draft a savior candidate, according to a new book.

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and then-Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels tried to draft a new candidate into the race in the run-up to the Michigan primary in February, when a resurgent Santorum was beating Romney in a string of contests, according to “Double Down,” a book about the 2012 campaign by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann.

The account underscores the deep doubts that many GOP establishment figures harbored about Romney, and it details for the first time their actions to draft a savior to step in as the party's standard bearer. These Republicans calculated that a late entrant could defeat Romney or Santorum in mega-state contests later in the spring and then successfully wage a floor fight at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Although some party elders had privately groused about Romney's campaign, their hunt for an alternative was not reported at the time. Romney's team in Boston was largely in the dark; according to the book, only two Washington-based advisers to Romney, Ron Kaufman and Wayne Berman, had any inkling.

The book describes Barbour and veteran GOP strategist Scott Reed as being at the center of the effort, with Barbour serving as “the establishment's de facto white-knight headhunter.” In the days before the Feb. 28 Michigan primary, Barbour met in Washington with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Daniels — both of whom in 2011 decided not to run — and asked both to step forward.

After consulting with his adviser Mike DuHaime about the filing deadlines and what a brokered deadline might look like, Christie decided initiating a late bid might be “career suicide” and opted against it, according to the book. But the book describes Daniels as “less dismissive of his idea,” as he shared Barbour's view that Romney's performance had been poor.

The authors write that House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio was briefed on the white-knight scenario and “was increasingly warm to the notion.” The speaker signaled he wanted Daniels to consider running, while at the same time encouraging Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin to step up as well, according to the book.

After his family again resisted a campaign, Daniels tried to recruit former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Ryan to become the “white knight,” according to the book.

One day, Daniels sent a text message to Ryan asking him to call him, and a few seconds later the congressman rang.

“Paul! Oh, hey! Didn't expect you so quick!” Daniels said, quickly making his pitch to Ryan, according to the book. Then Ryan sighed, telling Daniels he thought he was calling to tell him he was going to run, the authors write.

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