The plan to make Mitt Romney the next president of the United States is being hatched deep in the heart of a city that conservatives across the country view as enemy territory: Boston.
A gray-and-tan former furniture store overlooking the waterfront on the tip of the North End has served as the Romney campaign’s headquarters since 2006. But now that Romney is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, it is turning into the nationwide nerve center of Republican aspirations to reclaim the Oval Office.
The campaign has kept a Kremlin-like cloak of secrecy over what goes on inside their offices at 585 Commercial St. No sign or other marker tells visitors it is now the official seat of the man who could be the country’s next leader.
“I didn’t even know he was there until the other day,’’ said Don Cassano, a former executive director of the North End & Waterfront Business Association. “He just keeps it low key. And when I say low key, I mean very low key. I don’t even know when they moved in there.’’
Aides, however, said the headquarters will be rapidly expanding, adding fund-raising, field, and communications staff in preparation for the general election battle ahead.
At lunchtime Wednesday, the building was a hive of activity.
Twenty-something campaign workers, including one young man in a vintage Reagan-Bush ’84 T-shirt, loaded a rental truck with Romney for president campaign signs and boxes of supplies. A man and a woman in a black sport utility vehicle delivered seven pizzas from Pushcart Pizzeria on Salem Street, ensuring the busy campaign staff inside would not need to leave their office for sustenance.
And the driver of a Staples truck wheeled in office supplies on a hand truck. (Staples, of course, is a Bain Capital success story that Romney frequently praises on the campaign trail.)
Vin Weber, a Romney adviser, said the headquarters will be broadening its view now that Rick Santorum has dropped out of the race, clearing a path for Romney to take on President Obama in the fall.
“You staff up, you shift your focus to the swing states, as opposed to the primary states, and you just do all the things that go along with what will be a bigger campaign,’’ he said.
One of the most pressing tasks will be determining which states will be competitive in November. Inside the office, strategists will sift through polling data and voting statistics to determine where the campaign should spend its money and open field offices, Weber said.
Tad Devine, who advised John F. Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign, recalled the transition from the primary season to the general election as a particularly frenetic period.
“We spent the whole month of March engaged in a very large-scale research project to find out, messagewise, where we needed to go,’’ he said.
Kerry also moved his base of operations from Capitol Hill to a bigger space near K Street, with a “functional war room’’ where staff members could monitor cable television chatter and respond instantaneously.
Most presidential candidates open their headquarters in their home states. Obama’s Chicago offices boast a Ping-Pong table, and to sit on, there are bouncy balls instead of desk chairs.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who owns a home in Belmont, was adamant that his campaign not be based in Washington, a city he frequently casts as a villain whose power brokers are out of touch with workaday Americans.
The building housing his headquarters was built in 1962 as a home for the US Food and Drug Administration. The 38,723-square-foot structure later served as a law office and host to the high-end home furnisher Roche-Bobois.
National pundits have already taken to using “Boston’’ as shorthand for his campaign, in the same way Washington has become shorthand for the federal government. What is Boston doing to win women voters? What is Boston’s response to the Buffett Rule to increase taxes on the super-wealthy?
Boston, however, is not exactly Romney country.
According to a Globe poll taken late last month, Romney is not popular in Massachusetts, and even less so in the city. About 58 percent of Boston voters view Romney unfavorably, compared with 37 percent who view him favorably. Obama, by contrast, is viewed favorably by 73 percent of Boston voters and unfavorably by 27 percent.
Romney’s headquarters were burglarized in 2007, when thieves stole seven laptop computers and a 37-inch plasma television. Police said there was no evidence the crime was politically motivated.
While Romney may not have woven himself into the fabric of the neighborhood, his staff has taken advantage of the North End’s famous Italian-American cuisine. Angelo Trodella, who owns Pushcart Pizzeria, said he delivers pizzas to the headquarters at least once a week, including one particularly memorable order of 35 pies.
“They love it, and they seem to be very happy with it,’’ he said. But, he lamented, he has never handed a pizza to Romney himself. “Not yet,’’ he said. “I’m hoping.’’