(CNN) - Mitt Romney is playing an increasingly large role in campaign politics, especially for a man who says he has no intention of running for higher office again.
Thursday the former Massachusetts governor and two-time White House candidate gave his support to a GOP Senate candidate in Oregon. The endorsement is the latest sign that the 2012 Republican presidential nominee plans to play an influential role in helping to shape the future of his party.
Romney endorsed Dr. Monica Wehby, a Portland pediatric neurosurgeon running in Oregon's May 20th Republican primary for Senate. The winner of that contest will face off this November against first-term Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley, who Republicans think may be vulnerable if 2014 turns into a wave year for the GOP.
"Dr. Wehby is the kind of leader Oregon needs – someone who has strong experience outside of government, who can bring trust and accountability back to Washington. Dr. Wehby is putting forward a positive and conservative vision for her campaign that will make Oregonians proud," Romney said in a statement obtained by CNN.
Oregon is a vote-by-mail state, with ballots being sent out starting Thursday and voting ending on May 20. Wehby, a first time candidate is running against state Rep. Jason Conger, considered the more conservative candidate in the primary race.
Romney's endorsement of Wehby, first reported nationally by Politico, follows the Tuesday endorsement of the doctor by another 2012 Republican presidential candidate: former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who's a co-host of CNN's "Crossfire."
Monday NewRepublican.org announced that it was going up with television, digital and radio spots in support of Wehby. The organization was formed early last year, following the 2012 GOP election defeats, by a group of Republican veterans to refocus the party's messaging and policy goals in an attempt to broaden the GOP's appeal beyond its traditional demographic base.
The spots are the group's first paid TV commercials to back a candidate. NewRepublican.org founder Alex Castellanos, a veteran GOP strategist and CNN contributor, said his group is spending six figures to run the spots through primary day.
Oregon's Democratic Party said the new ads and endorsements are a move to prop up Wehby by establishment Republicans "due to their failure to connect to women or minority voters."
"Newsflash to Monica Wehby, and the rest of the D.C. GOP establishment: if you want to appeal to women voters and rebrand your party, support women on issues like equal pay, raising the minimum wage, and funding programs supporting women's health, don't compare high heels to work boots in television ads," Democratic Party of Oregon Chairman Frank Dixon said in a statement.
Wehby, who enjoys the support of several GOP senators including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, grabbed some attention last week for a campaign ad of her own. The 60-second spot highlights a woman who was advised to consider terminating her pregnancy because her unborn daughter had spinal problems. The woman then goes on to recall how Wehby operated on her daughter shortly after she was born, and that the girl is now a healthy 12-year-old.
Romney's new role
Romney's endorsement of Wehby comes on the same day that he's featured in a new television commercial for Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho.
The spot, by Simpson's campaign, uses a clip of Romney saying "Mike Simpson, fighting for a balanced budget amendment. A-plus rating from NRA. A-plus rating from Right to Life. Fighting to hold down taxes and balance the budget."
The ad buy for the commercial is described as "sizable."
Last month Romney stared in a television commercial put out by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in support of Simpson, who faces a fierce primary challenge this year from a candidate backed by many tea party groups and by some conservative Washington-based organizations. One of those groups, Club for Growth, has gone up with ads critical of Simpson, and another, the Madison Project, this week starting running a spot that called the eight-term congressman a "Nancy Pelosi Republican."
Simpson was an early backer of Romney's last presidential campaign. Another big backer, former California state lawmaker Tony Strickland, is running for an open U.S. House seat long held by the GOP. Last week, as first reported by CNN, Strickland was endorsed by Romney.
Romney's backing of Strickland came one day after he endorsed state lawmaker Andy Tobin in the Republican primary for Arizona's 1st Congressional District. The Arizona House Speaker was a supporter of Romney's 2012 White House bid.
Romney stayed far from the political spotlight following his bruising November 2012 election defeat to President Barack Obama. But starting last spring when he hosted a summit in Park City Utah of some major political and business leaders, and last summer, when he headlined a fundraiser for the New Hampshire Republican party, he's been getting more and more involved in shaping the future of his party and guiding the national conversation.
So far this cycle he's endorsed or donated money to nearly 20 candidates, many of them establishment favorites who backed Romney in his White House runs.
With the two living former Republican presidents, George W. Bush and his father, George H.W. Bush, both staying far from the political conversation, Romney has begun to fill the void as a party elder.