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Re-Living Election 2012: Campaign Comes Full Circle At Harvard

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- It’s been just over three weeks since Election Day 2012, but to many it already feels like an eternity.

President Obama’s victory over Republican challenger Mitt Romney quickly gave way to an unfolding sex scandal involving former CIA Director David Petraeus, speculation about new Obama administration cabinet members — particularly the possible nomination of Susan Rice to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state — and the fiscal cliff negotiations that are now consuming Washington.

But after more than a year and a half of campaigning, the long road to Nov. 6 is coming full circle this week as representatives from the Obama and Romney campaigns, as well as top advisers to many of the GOP primary candidates and several influential outside groups, are gathering this week at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government for a 2012 debrief.

On neutral ground in Cambridge, Mass., fierce rivals (think Romney campaign manager Matt Rhoades and Obama campaign manager Jim Messina) will meet for the first time since the election — and many for the first time ever.

The conference will culminate on Thursday night with a forum, organized by Harvard’s Institute of Politics, featuring Messina, Obama campaign senior adviser David Axelrod, Romney campaign adviser Eric Fehrnstrom and senior strategist Stuart Stevens.

Stevens, the eccentric advertising and message guru who was frequently at Romney’s side on the campaign trail, previewed his look-back at the race on Wednesday in a Washington Post op-ed in which he acknowledged that “Romney was never a favorite of D.C.’s Green Room crowd or, frankly, of many politicians.”

But his column amounts to a fierce defense of Romney the candidate, even arguing that the former Massachusetts governor sparked a “national movement.”

“When Mitt Romney stood on stage with Barack Obama, it wasn’t about television ads or whiz-bang turnout technologies, it was about fundamental Republican ideas versus fundamental Democratic ideas,” Stevens wrote. “It was about lower taxes or higher taxes, less government or more government, more freedom or less freedom. And Republican ideals — Mitt Romney — carried the day.”

In the end, however, President Obama won the day, scooping up almost all the swing states the Romney campaign hoped to capture and amassing 332 electoral votes to Romney’s 206.

The Harvard gathering is taking place on the same day that President Obama plans to meet privately with Romney at the White House. Thursday’s meeting will be their first since the election. It also comes as Republicans continue to regroup after their loss this November and as chatter about potential 2016 presidential contenders has already begun.

When asked in an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan Tuesday night whether it was a mistake for the GOP to nominate Romney, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus answered unequivocally, “No, I don’t think so at all.”

But, Priebus added that in order for his party “to get back in the game,” party leaders will need to “do a full autopsy of what happened.”

That autopsy is already taking both privately and publicly at venues like the Republican Governors Association conference in Las Vegas earlier this month where GOP governors from around the country offered an initial assessment of what went wrong. And it will continue next month when the RNC holds its annual winter meeting, which is sure to spark another round of soul-searching from party activists from around the country.

This week’s sessions at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics will include a who’s who of political bold-faced names from campaign 2012, including senior campaign aides like Romney political director Rich Beeson and pollster Neil Newhouse, Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter and digital director Teddy Goff, Rick Santorum adviser John Brabender, former Rick Perry campaign manager Rob Johnson and even Mark Block, who ran Herman Cain’s short-lived but much-talked-about presidential bid.

Representatives from the outside groups that had so much influence — and spent so much money — on the election will also be on hand, including Bill Burton, senior strategist for the pro-Obama super PAC, Priorities USA Action; Steven Law, head of the pro-Republican group American Crossroads; and Tim Phillips, president of the conservative Americans for Prosperity.

In all more than three dozen campaign 2012 veterans will be on hand, along with some of the journalists who covered the election.

The closing forum with Messina, Axelrod, Fehrnstrom and Stevens will be streamed live on the Institute of Politics website Thursday at 6 p.m.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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