If Mitt Romney is elected president, how might that affect the first governor to endorse him?
That would be Dave Heineman, chief executive of the State of Nebraska, who still would have two years remaining in his second full term as governor.
Might he be in line for a position in a Romney administration?
“We can't engage in speculation,” replied Heineman's spokeswoman, Jen Rae Hein.
Ah, but the rest of us can.
“Every time I go to national committee meetings and talk to folks in Washington, D.C.,” said Mark Fahleson of Lincoln, executive director of the Nebraska GOP, “Dave Heineman's name comes up as someone who may be in line for secretary of commerce or U.S. trade representative. He would be eminently qualified for either position.
“But every time I've had a conversation with the governor about that, he has consistently said his dad taught him to focus on the job at hand, and everything else would take care of itself.”
Scott Petersen of Omaha, chairman of the Douglas County Republican Party, said Heineman's future is getting a lot of chatter.
“People are always asking him what he's going to do next,” Petersen said. “I wouldn't rule out secretary of education. I think he would be a good fit.”
At the Republican National Convention in Tampa at the end of August, the governor declined to rule anything in or out.
In a World-Herald interview this month, he added that he doesn't want to be an ambassador, and plans to remain in Nebraska once he completes his term at the end of 2014. He will have served a state-record 10 years as governor.
“I have to be able to go to the football game every Saturday,” the governor pleaded. “I'm not saying I'm not willing to travel, but I like it here.”
No doubt he means exactly what he says. Then again, if a president-elect asks you to serve the nation, how do you say no?
Born in Falls City, Neb., Heineman graduated from Wahoo High School and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, serving five years in the Army and becoming a captain.
He later served as chief aide to then-U.S. Rep. Hal Daub of Omaha, became executive director of the state GOP and was elected state treasurer in 1994.
As lieutenant governor when Gov. Mike Johanns was appointed U.S. secretary of agriculture, Heineman automatically rose to the governor's chair on Jan. 21, 2005. Then he defeated a famous foe in the 2006 Republican primary — legendary former Husker football coach Tom Osborne — and easily was elected governor in 2006 and re-elected in 2010.
Heineman jumped on the Romney bandwagon long ago — in 2007, before Romney lost that year's GOP presidential nomination to John McCain.
In June 2011, just before his one-year term as chairman of the National Governors Association, Heineman became the first governor in this campaign cycle to endorse Romney. (Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey claimed for a while that he was first, but his endorsement came four months after Heineman's.)
Fahleson said it's not just that Heineman was an early, longtime supporter of Romney. The Nebraska governor is well-qualified for the top Commerce spot or as U.S. trade rep, he said, in part because he has led numerous trade missions, including several to Cuba. He was the first U.S. governor to join a trade delegation to the island.
The governor's political acumen and his activism for GOP candidates also could position him for a national party post.
Fahleson said Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, enjoys wide support. But if Romney wins and Priebus decides his mission was accomplished, Fahleson said, Heineman would be qualified for the job.
Though it's a position that's elected by national committee members, Fahleson said, the RNC typically goes along with a president's nomination for the top party post.
Another possibility: If Priebus stays on for two years, the governor could finish his own term and then be available for the top GOP post. But first there's a presidential election to be held in 19 days — for now, everything else is mere speculation.
Dave Heineman has an army of followers in Nebraska, evidenced by the governor's 74 percent approval rating in a recent World-Herald Poll. Depending on how the presidential election turns out, though, the West Point graduate could be asked to accept a new command.
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