TAMPA - Former Governor William F. Weld breezed into the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel on Monday as if he’d just come back from the Bellport Bay Yacht Club, his polo shirt fraying at the neck and covered by a rumpled sport coat.
At nearly 6-foot-3, he’s still big. But at 67, his famed red mane has softened with gray.
Get him talking, though, and it’s clear he remains the brilliant, loquacious, devil-may-care person who ruled Massachusetts with ease from 1991 to 1997.
Beyond his New York law office, one of his big focuses right now is one of his successors in the Corner Office - Mitt Romney, who couldn’t be more different from Weld in terms of comportment or repartee with the media.
Weld is in Florida to serve as a Romney delegate at the Republican National Convention. He’s not one from his adopted Massachusetts, but his native New York, where he now splits his time between Manhattan and his childhood Long Island.
“I think Governor Romney is dead even right now and, I think that’s a pretty good place to be,” Weld said as he leaned forward in a lobby chair.
“People focus with laser-like intensity on the presidential election only after Labor Day, this year only after the Democratic convention. And when they’re really focusing, it’s much more natural, even inevitable, for the contest to settle down to who’s going to do what to fix the economy and create jobs,” he said.
Weld called that “Governor Romney’s long suit,” adding, “I expect there to be a big break in October in the direction of Governor Romney, just because of what people will be focusing on. They’re not going to focus on who has more money or who has better jumpshot.”
Weld endorsed Romney during the 2008 GOP primary campaign but then-Illinois Senator Barack Obama in his general election campaign against fellow Republican John McCain.
He conceded “I was part of the army that thought he was going to be absolutely fabulous,” but he said now-President Obama lost him with his attitude toward spending and business.
“If it’s once, you let it go by, but then that got reprised with, ‘Well, if you got a job out there, you didn’t build that,” Weld said. “That’s not true, and if Mitt Romney stands for anything, it’s the idea that productivity and entrepreneurial spirit of the American workforce has been our edge over the years, and I still think it is, and Mitt will let nothing interfere with tapping into those qualities.”
Weld again endorsed Romney in his current campaign, and he said he did so after watching his succeeding governor study national and international issues from 2005 to 2007 and emerge with a clear understanding of both.
He recalled hearing him speak for the first time as a prospective presidential candidate, when Romney talked about foreign affairs in New York City before a relatively small group of 20 people.
“He knew everything,” Weld said. “And then his book, ‘No Apology,’ I think, is very good. And he wrote it. He started out with a ghostwriter and he said, ‘Ooh, ooh, I’ve figured out after 10 minutes that’s not going to work.’”
As was usually the case when Weld made his near-daily 5 p.m. appearances before reporters outside his State House office, the former governor delivered a straight, unhesitating answer when asked if he might like to work for a President Romney.
“Oh sure, oh sure,” he said.
Weld said his current interest is energy policy, but the man who resigned to pursue an unsuccessful appointment as US ambassador to Mexico also enjoys foreign affairs and the game of politics that might also come with a third assignment: a job within the White House itself.
Then, catching himself, Weld added: “I’m not really sure that would be in the cards right away. I’m deeply involved in a number of business enterprises. But in terms of attitude, yeah, I’d be there, with bells on.”