March 19, 2002 -- Massachusetts acting Gov. Jane Swift decided not to seek election to a full term in November and today endorsed the budding candidacy of Salt Lake City Olympic organizer Mitt Romney.
Before a room packed with supporters and journalists at the Massachusetts Statehouse, Swift said she would retire from politics when her term expires in December.
"I believe that this is in the best interest of our state because it will allow the Republican Party the best chances to hold the governor's office in November," Swift said.
"Within the last 24 hours," she told reporters, "I sat down with my husband after having had a major conversation with my political adviser."
With Swift out of the way, Romney announced late this afternoon that he would run for the nomination.
‘Something Had to Give’
Earlier, referring to a potential primary battle against Romney, Swift said, "Obviously, the political campaign time commitment to run a successful campaign against a well-heeled opponent increased the time necessary for that."
She said she also wanted to spend more time with her husband and her three young children.
"Something had to give, either in governance or in politics," Swift said.
Her voice breaking, Swift thanked her friends and supporters, and said the people of Massachusetts had shown her good will during her 12 years in politics.
"I'll continue to work heard in the coming months for the commonwealth," she said. "Serving the commonwealth has been an honor and a privilege."
First Governor to Give Birth in Office
Swift served as lieutenant governor under Gov. A. Paul Cellucci and became the state's top executive last April when Cellucci was named President Bush's ambassador to Canada. In May, Swift also became the first governor to give birth (to twins, no less) while in office.
Her tenure as lieutenant governor was marked by ethical questions, her tenure as governor has been plagued by budget problems, and Republicans in the state and in Washington regarded her as unlikely to hold the seat for the GOP this fall.
The White House and the Republican Party committees publicly and financially supported Swift throughout her slow collapse, even as they privately looked for ways to get her out of the race, trying to find new jobs for her through intermediaries.
However, according to sources close to the president, those efforts ended a while ago, after Swift made it clear that she did not intend to drop out.
As late as Monday, Swift and her aides were lining up high-profile support from people like former Gov. William Weld, who offered his endorsement via The Boston Globe today, and joining with abortion rights advocates to suggest they would strip the bark off of Romney, whose position on abortion has gotten fuzzy in recent years.
Sources who spoke with Swift before her announcement attribute her change of heart to a variety of factors, perhaps less important to her than her family, but as important to her political future.
Her poll numbers were cratering — Swift knew, for example, that one well-tested polling formula put her more than 60 points behind Romney.
And she faced the prospect of a public humiliation by Romney supporters at the state Republican convention.
Back From the Olympics
Romney is not a newcomer to Massachusetts politics, though he faces a somewhat new set of challenges.
He ran against Sen. Edward Kennedy in 1994 and got 41 percent of the vote — mostly from men. Romney hasn't been in the state for a while, having just returned from Salt Lake City last weekend.
In recent days, Romney commissioned a statewide poll and received the public backing of many top Massachusetts Republicans. But he has few staff on board, no press operation to speak of, and hasn't yet said how he'll deal with the problems the state faces. Still, he'll probably face less negative coverage than Swift.
He is viewed by Republicans and Democrats as a much stronger contender who can raise serious money, and with Democrats hosting a crowded, late (September) primary, Republicans now have a decent shot to hang onto this seat — though the state's traditional Democratic tilt means this may still be a somewhat uphill race for him.
His positions on abortion, on gay rights, and his business dealings will be scrutinized by the state's political press corps and by researchers working for his Democratic opponent.