By KASIE HUNT
BOSTON - One word defines Mitt Romney's inner circle: loyal.
For years, the GOP presidential candidate has stuck with a core team of advisers who shun backbiting and value secrecy. But that close-knit culture could be tested as Romney's campaign staff expands to compete against President Barack Obama in the general election.
"It takes new money, it takes new people to come into the campaign," Romney said recently, mindful of the campaign growth spurt under way. "It has a whole different feel to the process than does the primary."
Change, he made clear, is certain - except, it seems, when it comes to the top people who shepherded him through the primary process.
Romney's inner circle is arguably the same one he'll rely on if he wins in November and moves into the White House. The group has been with him for more than six years, including one failed presidential run. The team is so tight-knit that many of them keep apartments in the same building in Boston, around the corner from the campaign's headquarters on the Charles River.
"When we went through difficult times, where in other campaigns you might have second guessing, our team held together pretty tight," said Katie Packer Gage, a deputy campaign manager who was part of Romney's 2008 presidential effort. "There was never anybody turning on anybody else. There was just a very high degree of loyalty, ultimately to Mitt and to each other."
The risk of relying on longtime loyalists is that campaigns can become insular and unwilling to listen to outsiders.
That explains why Romney recently broadened his inner circle with the addition of Ed Gillespie, a former Republican National Committee chairman with years of general election campaign experience. Gillespie, who was not involved in Romney's primary campaign this year or in 2008, was introduced to the mix gingerly over time and helped out behind the scenes long before the official announcement in April that he had come on board.
Romney's campaign will continue adding staff, and advisers acknowledge that is bound to put more stress on the core group.
But Gage doesn't see that becoming a big problem.
"As it gets bigger and you recognize that the needs of the campaign shift, there will be other folks that join the family, so to speak. People that are going to put Mitt Romney before any motivation or agenda," she said. "And as long as we have that in common, things are going to work out fine."
A look at Romney's inner circle:
-Bob White. He doesn't have an official title, but he's worked with Romney since both were partners at Bain Capital, the private equity firm Romney helped start. Romney called White for help running the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, and he's been involved in every one of Romney's political campaigns. He has an office at headquarters and often leads meetings.
- Ed Gillespie. He's one of the few Romney aides with extensive presidential campaign experience. He headed the Republican National Committee during President George W. Bush's 2004 re-election campaign and later joined the White House as an adviser. Gillespie is the only senior adviser to join Romney's campaign this year.
THE VEEP VETTER
-Beth Myers. She was Romney's chief of staff during his term as Massachusetts governor. She also ran his 2008 presidential bid and is now leading his search for a vice presidential running mate. Myers is personally close to the candidate and his wife, Ann.
THE ATTACK DOG
-Eric Fehrnstrom. A former newspaper reporter, Fehrnstrom has served as Romney's spokesman since he was governor. He frequently travels with Romney and is considered an authority on Romney's record in Massachusetts.
-Peter Flaherty. He oversees Romney's outreach to the Republican Party's conservative wing. A devout Catholic, Flaherty has deep ties to the evangelical community, as well, and has assiduously courted social conservative activists who have been reluctant to back Romney. Flaherty has worked for Romney for nearly a decade and was deputy chief of staff in the governor's office.
-Matt Rhoades. The behind-the-scenes campaign manager, Rhoades was Romney's 2008 communications director. His background in opposition research was obvious during the primaries as Romney battered his opponents with TV ads hitting their records on everything from the government-controlled mortgage company Freddie Mac to voting rights for felons.
-Stuart Stevens and Russ Schriefer. Longtime partners, they are Romney's ad makers and senior strategists. Stevens, the lead speechwriter, is at Romney's side on the campaign trail. Romney frequently calls him after big campaign moments to check in and discuss developments.