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JOAN VENNOCHI

Mitt Romney’s 2016 chances look good

Baker’s election shows the GOP should draft a centrist

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As goes Massachusetts, so goes the nation.

That’s not conventional wisdom. But if it were, it would make Mitt Romney the GOP’s best bet in 2016.

Think about it.

First, came Deval Patrick. Preaching hope and change in 2006, he became the Bay State’s first black governor.

Then came Barack Obama. Preaching hope and change in 2008 — at least once in a speech that was borrowed word for word from Patrick — he became the country’s first black president.

Fast-forward to last November when Massachusetts elected the antidote to eight years of inspirational rhetoric, dragged down to earth by mucked-up management. The Bay State’s next governor will be Charlie Baker, a centrist Republican with a background in business and government, who promised voters competence, not pretty words or hard-core ideology.

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For those who see parallels between the Patrick and Obama administrations, a Romney reprise makes sense — if Romney finally ran as what he is: not a “severely conservative” Republican, but a centrist. A GOP candidate with an impressive background in business and government, who can restore competence to government — minus any heavy ideological baggage.

That’s how Romney won the governor’s office in Massachusetts. And after two terms of Obama, it’s a plausible general election message for the right Republican candidate. But who is the right Republican?

The national press is buzzing over Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and of the Bush political clan, who just announced he would “actively explore” a 2016 presidential run. If Bush runs, Romney’s out, the pundits say. Why? Because many in the media love the idea of a Bush-Clinton showdown, and they need Jeb to make it happen — and Hillary, too.

But a great political story line does not always add up to a great political candidacy. To hit the highlights of the arguments against Bush: He hasn’t run for office since 2002 and does not look to be in fighting shape for 2016. Some dieting is anticipated. Conservatives hate him because he equated illegal immigration with “an act of love.”

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Meanwhile, when most people hear “Bush,” they think W. and Dick Cheney, which is not a winning word association in presidential politics in light of the recent release of the CIA torture report. Jeb Bush also has money problems, the kind associated with rich men who work for Lehman Bros., as he once did.

Romney, of course, is also rich, but fully vetted and bursting to remind voters he was right about Vladimir Putin. Romneycare makes him anathema to Obamacare haters, yet, at the same time, it makes him reasonable to others. Voters already know all of Romney’s revolving positions, to the point that calling him a flip-flopper is old news. Old news also means there’s no more political mileage out of the family dog strapped to the roof of the Romney car.

As for his 2012 gaffe about the 47 percent who don’t pay taxes and wouldn’t support him — they still won’t support him, but does the gaffe really have legs in 2016? Not if Clinton is the nominee. She will have her own explaining to do to the same 47 percent about what it means to be “dead broke.”

For that and other reasons, Romney v. Clinton are “an even match,” a National Review article argued last November: Both are experienced candidates who know defeat and have not been crushed by it. They are both multi-millionaires. They are the same age.

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Of course, a 2016 presidential run would be Romney’s third, and there’s only so much Ann Romney can do to humanize her man. She may have more Romney fatigue than anyone else. But this finally could be the right time for Romney.

When he ran in 2012, the country was still invested in the hope and change Obama represented. In 2016, Obama won’t be on the ballot, but the policies he championed will be.

When Patrick ran for reelection in 2010, Massachusetts was still invested in the hope and change he represented. That time, he beat Baker — the same Baker who won the governor’s office last November. Patrick wasn’t on the ballot in 2012, but the policies he championed were, along with his style of government.

Voters opted for another model. And when hope and change run out of steam in Massachusetts, you can imagine how dead they are everywhere else.

Related:

Scot Lehigh: Jeb Bush candidacy spells a contentious GOP race

Jeff Jacoby: A Clinton vs. Bush race? Again?

P.J. O’Rourke: Top 10 picks for the 2016 presidential


Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.