Eric Tanenblatt, Senior Managing Director at law firm McKenna Long and Aldridge (MLA), remembers a 2010 meeting he had with current republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney here in Buckhead. Having been a key player in several successful campaigns at that point, Tanenblatt was there to discuss the campaign of Attorney General Sam Olens, whom Romney was endorsing.
Tanenblatt had arrived early to the breakfast meeting at the , and was surprised to see that Romney had arrived even earlier, already sitting down at a booth with a random person and engaged in conversation. Romney was asking questions of people at the popular Buckhead restaurant, eager to find out their thoughts after his unsuccessful presidential bid in 2008.
For Tanenblatt, a Buckhead resident for the past 20 years and current political advisor and National Finance Co-Chair for Romney’s presidential campaign, this situation was typical of the Mitt Romney he has come to know.
"He's someone who asks a lot of questions," Tanenblatt said. "He is not arrogant or aloof and is very down to earth — someone that wants to hear what you think and what you have to say."
Tanenblatt's association with Romney extends back to the former Massachusetts Governor’s chairmanship of the Republican Governors Association in 2004, when he served as Finance Co-Chair for that same organization. Through that connection, he later served as State Chairman for Romney’s 2008 primary campaign in Georgia.
Having been involved in politics for his entire career, Tanenblatt served as the state chairman for President George W. Bush’s successful Georgia campaign effort in 2000 and held senior positions in the 1996 Dole and Gramm Presidential campaigns. A longtime advisor to the late U.S. Sen. Paul Coverdell, Tanenblatt served as vice chairman of Sen. Coverdell’s successful 1998 reelection campaign, directed his 1992 campaign for the U.S. Senate and served as the Senator’s State Director in Georgia.
From 1989 to 1991, he served in the Administration of President George H.W. Bush. At the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, he served as a Special Assistant to Secretary Louis Sullivan focusing on Congressional and legislative affairs. He began his career at MLA in 2001 then left to serve as Chief of Staff to Gov. Sonny Perdue and acted as the finance chairman for the Governor's successful reelection campaign. Now, back at MLA, he fittingly leads the firm's National Government Affairs Group.
Tanenblatt feels that Romney's eagerness to learn and lead, coupled with the current state of the country's economy, means his chances are much better now than they were back in 2008.
"Running for president is a very big undertaking," he said. "When you run once before it provides you a foundation to build upon and you also learn a lot."
Right now, Tanenblatt said the biggest issues facing the United States are the economy and the need to create jobs — both of which he feels Romney is well equipped to handle.
"The country has not come out of the recession the way that it should have. I don't think the current president really understands the economy. If you look at Romney's career, throughout his life he has been known for and has a track record of turning around challenging situations. I think there is no one better qualified that understands the economy and understands what it takes to create jobs than Mitt Romney."
Tanenblatt cites Romeny's years in the private sector investing in struggling businesses and turning them around, coming into the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and making them successful in spite of ethics and fiscal issues, and finishing up his term as governor with an $2 billion surplus in spite of a $3 billion deficit as signs that he is the right man for the job this time around. In 2008, because of the war in Iraq, Tanenblatt said that John McCain's experience in the military made him the obvious choice for the republican nomination.
On a personal note, Tanenblatt has gotten to know Romney as an individual, not just a political candidate. He explained that the man he has attended Boston Red Sox games with and visited the Utah home of is a serious person with strong sense of humor that doesn't always come across in sound bites on television.
"People sometimes try to portray him as a wealthy guy that is out of touch and that could not be further from the truth," he said.
More recently, Tanenblatt was able to visit Israel with Romney and was named to his National Advisory Board.
Tanenblatt said that Romney has a genuine love for Georgia, Atlanta and Buckhead specifically. Having come to Georgia numerous times during his 2008 campaign, as well having done events in Buckhead for local politicians he has supported, Tanenblatt said the man he hopes will soon be leading the country has a lot of good friends here.
In addition to the encounter at the OK Cafe, Tanenblatt said Romney has gotten his famous head of hair cut at in same shopping complex. Photographic evidence of the encounter hangs on the wall there.
In spite of whatever support Romney gets or doesn't get in this community, though, Tanenblatt is passionate about making 2012 a big year for Romney.
"I'm a volunteer so I'm not one of his paid staff people," he said. "My motivation is because I care about the country and see him as the leader the country desires."
Tanenblatt is active in the Buckhead community and is a member of the . He lives here with his wife, Mary. Their two sons, Matthew and Sammy, attend .