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Longtime Romney aide to lead VP search

Candidate relies on adviser Myers

Beth Myers, 55, is called smart and meticulous. Beth Myers, 55, is called smart and meticulous.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / April 17, 2012
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WASHINGTON - In the fall of 2002, Mitt Romney’s campaign staff gathered in the basement of his home in Belmont. With upcoming debates scheduled against his Democratic opponent, Shannon O’Brien, Romney’s campaign staff wanted a female stand-in who was intelligent, quick on her feet, and could throw a verbal punch.

Beth Myers - a onetime waitress whose pathway to politics was aided by working in the same restaurant where future state Treasurer Joe Malone tended bar - fit the bill. She played the part of O’Brien, going toe to toe with Romney and preparing him for debates that helped him win the election.

A few months later, the new governor hired Myers as his State House chief of staff - and on Monday Romney again ratcheted up her level of responsibility.

“I’ve asked her to be the person who oversees the process of the vice presidential selection and vetting,’’ Romney told Diane Sawyer of ABC News in an interview taped Monday at Fenway Park. “And so she’s begun that process and is putting together the kinds of things you need to do to vet potential candidates.’’

At a time when Romney’s team is quickly expanding and adding new national brand names, his choice of Myers, 55, is one indication of his willingness to stick by some of the core advisers with him for more than a decade.

Myers will preside over a high-stakes, highly sensitive candidate review that will end with one of the most scrutinized decisions of Romney’s campaign. Romney aides would not elaborate on how the vice presidential pick will be vetted, but few expect an impulsive, last-minute surprise of the sort that brought Sarah Palin to John McCain’s ticket in 2008.

Myers declined to be comment on her selection for the key role, typical for an aide who is largely unknown to the outside world.

Inside the campaign, staffers know Myers as someone with a cappuccino maker whose office door is always open, and whose “desk’’ is an oval table that encourages her guests to sit in a circle. Those close to her describe her as thoughtful (remembering co-workers’ birthdays) and remarkably “cool’’ - even to her college-age children.

“She would win any pop culture trivia contest,’’ said Peter Flaherty, another longtime Romney aide who has worked closely with Myers for a decade. “She could tell you the landscape in any political primary just as she could tell you the latest twists and turns in ‘Friday Night Lights’ and ‘Mad Men.’ ’’

“I don’t think I have ever brought up a book in conversation - or anyone else brought up - that Beth Myers has not read,’’ he added.

Myers, who lives in Brookline and graduated from Tufts University, is a longtime Republican. Her start in politics can be traced to Jack’s, a bar between Harvard and Central squares where she waited tables in the 1970s.

Tending bar was Malone, who in 1979 was preparing to help run the presidential campaign of John Connally, a former Texas governor and Cabinet secretary. Malone enlisted Myers; Charlie Baker, who would run for governor in 2010; and Steve Roche, a former Romney aide who now helps run Restore Our Future, the independent super PAC supporting Romney.

Myers ran the phone banks and was so proficient that she was later hired by a firm to move to Texas and help run part of the operation for Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaign in 1980. It was there that she met a Republican strategist named Karl Rove.

“We were great friends then, and we’re great friends now,’’ Rove, who went on to become President George W. Bush’s top strategist, said in an interview. “She’s really smart, incredibly meticulous. Very well organized, a lot of integrity. Great internal compass. Works well with other people, and incredibly discreet - all of which are traits that will serve her well in this job.’’

After spending about a decade in Texas - where she met her husband, Mark, had two children, and got a law degree at Southern Methodist University - Myers returned to Massachusetts and began working as chief of staff in Malone’s state treasurer’s office.

“It became apparent very quickly that she was a superstar,’’ Malone said. “She is a perfect cornerstone for any organization. Lots of things happen in a campaign and a government office. Unless you’ve got that one person that everyone goes to and relies on as the rock of Gibraltar, things can get out of hand. For our team, she was that.’’

Treasury officials were convicted of stealing millions during Malone’s tenure, but neither Malone nor Myers was implicated.

After working on Malone’s unsuccessful bid for governor in 1998, Myers took several years off from full-time employment to spend time with her children. By 2002, when Romney started running for governor, she began working for his campaign on a volunteer basis, most notably by playing O’Brien in the debate sessions. Shortly after Romney was elected, he asked Myers to become his chief of staff. It was a role that meant much more work and longer hours.

“She’s really an incredible multitasker in terms of being able to balance all of it,’’ Flaherty said. “We would constantly swap war stories about her quizzing her kids on Spanish and then getting on a conference call with then-Governor Romney about an impending snowstorm and whether there was going to be a state of emergency.’’

Several months before Romney’s term was up, she left to serve as director of the Commonwealth Political Action Committee, which Romney used to support his travel and gear up for his 2008 presidential bid. Myers then became chief of staff for the 2008 campaign, which ultimately was unsuccessful. It was a role she never really wanted, and one her critics say was never really suited for.

She later set up the Shawmut Group, a consulting firm that helped successfully steer Scott Brown to win the 2010 US Senate special election. She runs the firm along with Flaherty and Eric Fehrnstrom, another longtime Romney aide.

Myers, who during this presidential campaign is a senior adviser, is perceived as an asset in the competition for women’s votes. Last week she sent a fund-raising e-mail to Romney supporters accusing Democrats of waging a “war on moms.’’

“She is a very strong woman,’’ said Gail Gitcho, who is the Romney campaign’s communications director. “She will never be one that’s going to be pushed around, but . . . as tough as she is, she has a very big heart.’’ Gitcho would not elaborate on the vice presidential search process.

Myers carried a low profile previously, but on Monday posted her first tweet. “As someone who has worked in partnership with Mitt Romney for years, I am honored to lead his search for a VP,’’ she wrote.

Myers is a good fit for the job, said Kerry Healey, former Massachusetts lieutenant governor. “She finds people who suit Mitt’s sensibility,’’ said Healey, “and understand his goals and his values.’’

Matt Viser can be reached at maviser@globe.com.

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