He’s a former prosecutor who keeps a statue of Mary on his desk — and he’s trying to woo Catholics and Evangelicals to the Romney cause.
The response seemed to defy the rough-and-tumble rules of modern politics. One of the nation’s most prominent opponents of same-sex marriage, Maggie Gallagher, had just told aides to Mitt Romney that she was endorsing Rick Santorum, a favorite of social conservatives, and encouraging her supporters to do the same.
So what did the Romney camp do? A few hours later, it invited her to send over a copy of her forthcoming book, for which Mr. Romney, it suggested, might provide a flattering blurb. “It was,” Ms. Gallagher recalled, “extremely unusual and gracious.”
The gesture, which caught her off guard and earned her admiration, was the deft diplomatic handiwork of Mr. Romney’s unseen but crucial weapon this campaign season: his liaison to the Republican Party’s right wing, Peter G. Flaherty, a former homicide prosecutor who keeps a statue of the Virgin Mary on his desk.
As Mr. Romney confronts the rise of Mr. Santorum, whom polls now show running even with him nationally, Mr. Flaherty, a Catholic, has been handed an urgent and tricky task — winning over social and religious conservatives who remain suspicious of the candidate’s ideological commitment and wary of his Mormon faith. As his experience with Ms. Gallagher suggests, Mr. Flaherty is not always successful, but he is reliably resourceful.
It was Mr. Flaherty who organized a confidential meeting between Mr. Romney and dozens of conservative leaders in Washington last week. It was Mr. Flaherty who persuaded five former ambassadors to the Vatican to publicly back Mr. Romney over his Catholic rivals, Mr. Santorum and Newt Gingrich, before the New Hampshire primary. And it is Mr. Flaherty who has coached Mr. Romney on how to defend his position on fraught issues like abortion during debates, according to campaign colleagues and conservative leaders.
In a field that churns out hard-charging operatives, Mr. Flaherty, 46, is something of an anomaly, described by those he has courted as disarmingly mild-mannered, soft-spoken and philosophical. But they know him, too, as a man of deep feeling, propelled into the law by the murder of an aunt at a Boston church, where he returned to pray during jury deliberations as a prosecutor. He tends to begin conversations with an update on his three sons and two brothers, whom he speaks to several times a day.
He deliberately avoids the hard sell, to the point where some conservatives say the Romney campaign has not been aggressive enough. Mr. Flaherty is known to tell skeptical evangelical leaders and reluctant conservative luminaries backing rival candidates that he can live with being their second choice in the nomination contest. “Keep us in mind,” is a common Flaherty refrain, said those who have spoken with him, followed by this: “Our door is always open.”
That style has earned him a deep reservoir of good will, even among those who disapprove of Mr. Romney. Several conservatives said he is the only campaign official they will work with.