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Who Are Romney's Closest Advisers?


The presidential campaign is now in full swing, and Mitt Romney, the presumptive candidate for the Republican nomination, is hiring hundreds of new staffers over the next few months. But the former Massachusetts governor is still surrounded by a trusted core of senior advisors, and they aren't going anywhere. In fact, some of them may become the senior staffers of a Romney White House. NPR's Ari Shapiro joins us now to tell us more about the people who make up Romney's inner circle. OK, Ari, how tight is this circle, and what do these people have in common besides Mitt Romney?

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: You know, Mitt Romney is not the kind of garrulous politician who likes hearing a thousand different people's opinions on something. He's somebody who has a small core of people that he's built up trust with over the years, many of them from his first presidential run. And some of these folks go even farther than that to his 2002 gubernatorial run.

MARTIN: How do they function as a team on a daily basis?

SHAPIRO: Well, by all accounts, Romney depends on a combination of a style he learned as a management consultant running Bain Capital and also some lessons he learned from 2008. So, at Bain Capital, he learned the value of a bunch of different people who disagree in conflicting opinions and hashing it all out. And in 2008, he kind of learned the limitations of that, which is to say you need to move quickly and not just hash everything out interminably. So, a lot of this happens in daily conference calls in the inner circle of advisors, because you have to remember the senior people are divided between Boston, where the headquarters are, and the campaign trail, where Romney is.

MARTIN: So, how much influence do these people really have? How heavily does he rely on them? Does he do what they say he needs to do as a candidate?

SHAPIRO: You know what I'm about to say could be true of any political advisor, but I think to some extent his advisors wish he would listen to them a little bit more. I'll give you an example. In Detroit, before the Michigan primary, Romney delivered what was, by all accounts, a disastrous speech in this nearly empty football stadium. One thing that was criticized that this speech, which was billed as a major set of new economic proposals, sounded like a mushy rehash of things he had already rolled out. So, after this speech, I was talking to one senior advisor about everything that went wrong and I said, well, you know, who wrote this speech? And after some hemming and hawing, the senior advisors sort of rolled their eyes and said the governor wrote the speech, meaning Romney wrote it. So, yes, Romney does take charge, and I don't think it's going too far out on a limb to say sometimes his aides wish he wouldn't.

MARTIN: So, tell us about a couple of people whose names we might not recognize but who we might hear. I mean, we should point out, you know, there are a couple of names in the Obama campaign that became household names.

SHAPIRO: Right. You think of somebody like David Axelrod, who was a senior strategist to President Obama, David Plouffe, who's at the White House right now, Robert Gibbs, who was the press secretary for the first couple of years - these were all senior advisors during the Obama campaign. So, the people we're talking about as senior advisors during the Romney campaign could be the Axelrods, the Plouffes, the Gibbs of a Romney administration. One name to mention is Eric Fehrnstrom, who goes back 10 years to Romney's 2002 gubernatorial race. Fehrnstrom's name may ring a bell to many people because of something he said on CNN not too long ago.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think he hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like a Etch A Sketch, you can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.

SHAPIRO: This was a huge gaffe, and people who know Fehrnstrom well say it was totally out of character for him. Another person worth mentioning is Stuart Stevens, a senior advisor, who is also an alum from the 2008 campaign. He's in charge of writing most of the Romney campaign's ads, and he has what may be the most interesting bio of any political strategist I have ever encountered. He has written books, including one about road-tripping across Africa. He is an extreme sports aficionado who has skied to the North Pole. He's writing...

MARTIN: Renaissance man.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. He's writing a script for HBO right now, and then he's kind of the messaging guy who's also writing ads for Romney.

MARTIN: NPR's Ari Shapiro, giving us the inside scoop on Romney's inside circle. Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.