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Healey said to win Romney pledge

Would get his backing if he doesn't run in '06

Kerry Healey apparently has an early fund-raising edge.
Kerry Healey apparently has an early fund-raising edge. (Globe Staff File Photo / Essdras M Suarez)

Governor Mitt Romney has promised to endorse Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey in the 2006 gubernatorial race if he decides to run for president, a top Republican Party official and a Healey adviser said.

Healey secured the governor's promise of an endorsement after a series of private conversations between the two elected officials earlier this year, the two sources said. It was one of several aggressive steps Healey has taken to position herself as the potential front-runner for the Republican Party's nomination for governor next year.

In the last few months, Healey nailed down the exclusive services of a sought-after GOP strategist, a polling firm that served the last four governors, and three key Republican fund-raisers, according to interviews with a half-dozen GOP strategists and party officials. She has also spent tens of thousands of dollars on direct mail, consultants, and a public opinion poll, campaign finance records show, sending strong signals to the Republican establishment that she is already running to succeed Romney if he chooses not to run for reelection.

Healey's moves are the strongest sign yet that some top Republicans in Massachusetts are not waiting for Romney to announce his political plans, but acting on the assumption that he will not run for reelection. Romney insists he has not made up his mind whether to run for reelection in 2006 or run for president in 2008. His advisers have said he will make that decision this fall.

Several top Republicans said that Romney's delayed decision would give Healey a head start over Harvard Pilgrim chief executive Charles D. Baker, who has said he would not mount a campaign for governor unless Romney decides to run for the White House.

If Romney waits until the fall to announce he is not running for reelection, Baker would have less than a year to raise money to compete with the wealthy Healey in the Republican gubernatorial primary. Healey, on the other hand, is able to continue raising money for her campaign account without appearing disloyal to Romney, the strategists said.

''There's a side effect of the governor waiting; the later the better for Kerry," said a state GOP official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Baker met with Romney about four months ago to find out what his plans were, but Romney declined to provide a specific timetable, several Republicans said. Then Baker met with Healey and Republican Party chairman Darrell W. Crate, to determine whether Healey would run if Romney exited the race.

Healey is apparently taking steps to line up money. The lieutenant governor, 45, is a Beverly resident who lost two races for the Legislature before winning a contested race for lieutenant governor in 2002. She has been aggressively raising funds with the help of two Romney backers, lobbyists James Connolly and Robert Platt.

Since Jan. 1, Healey has raised more than $230,000 and has spent $56,500 spent on polls conducted by Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Va., the party's polling firm for more than a decade; $11,000 to Gray Media, the Republican strategy firm run by Rob Gray; roughly $12,000 to Melissa Lucas, who raised at least $2 million for Acting Governor Jane M. Swift; and roughly $22,000 on direct mail.

Meanwhile, her husband, Affiliated Managers Group chief executive Sean M. Healey, cashed in roughly $6.3 million in company stock last month, according to US Securities and Exchange Commission documents, which could give Healey a large amount of personal money to fund a gubernatorial campaign.

But her most imortant strategic move was getting the governor's promise to endorse her candidacy if he does decide to take his own race national. Romney's endorsement would be key to any Republican hopeful because of his proven fund-raising ability and popularity among GOP voters.

''If Mitt's out, she's definitely in, with his blessing and endorsement," said the top Healey adviser.

''Put it this way: It is a definite," a top Republican Party official said of Romney's endorsement of Healey if he makes a bid for the White House. ''There have been conversations between them. There is no question in Kerry Healey's mind that Mitt Romney will be endorsing her if [he runs for president]. And again, that's an if."

Party leaders include several important Healey partisans. Crate is chief financial officer at Affiliated Managers Group, her husband's firm.

But Gray, speaking on behalf of Healey, said that her steps are common-sense precautions, but that she is campaigining for reelection, not higher office.

''She's running for lieutenant governor, but is also looking at the governor's race, in case governor Romney opts out," Gray said. ''It's a decision that's yet to be made."

Baker is not without powerful weaponry. A political moderate with a strong reputation for his managerial skills, Baker has at least three major fund-raisers in his corner if he enters the governor's race, according to Republican strategists.

They are: Massachusetts Convention Center Authority chairwoman Gloria C. Larson, Martha Chayet, and Bingham McCutchen partner Mark E. Robinson, all of whom have been making calls to Bay State opinion leaders and political activists touting Baker's electability.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's communications director, said he sees no strong evidence of positioning by either Healey or Baker. He said Romney is focused on the Bay State. ''Governor Romney has a very ambitious agenda for Massachusetts on jobs, education, and healthcare," he said.

''Those of us who work for Governor Romney come to the office every day ready to work on that agenda, and we all assume he's running for reelection until and unless he tells us something different," Fehrnstrom said.

Baker, for his part, declined to comment, saying, ''I have a job and I'm doing it, and I plan to continue doing it."

Recent polling data suggests that Healey is far better known than Baker and would be a viable contender with typical Republican Party voters.

A poll of likely GOP primary voters conducted on behalf of Healey and made available to the Globe indicated that Healey is known by 74 percent of those surveyed, compared with 9 percent for Baker.

Those numbers were similar to a Globe poll and a Suffolk University poll that were both conducted about three months ago.

But one GOP strategist hoping for Baker to enter the race said the polls are deceptive.

''Opinon leaders all know and respect Charlie, and I think he's well known despite the polls," the strategist said. ''I think a lot of independents and Democrats would be attracted to his candidacy."

Raphael Lewis's email is rlewis@globe.com.

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