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Dan Senor, senior national-security aide to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaks to the press en route to Israel from London on Saturday. (JASON REED/Reuters)
Dan Senor, senior national-security aide to U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, speaks to the press en route to Israel from London on Saturday. (JASON REED/Reuters)

With roots in Canada, a key advisor helps Romney push for the presidency Add to ...

As a teenager growing up in Toronto, Dan Senor used to perform as a magician to earn money. These days, he is attempting a different kind of feat – getting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney elected.

A senior foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Romney, Mr. Senor played a central role in planning the candidate’s recent two-day swing through Israel, a trip carefully orchestrated to shore up the support of a key constituency back home.

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At each step, Mr. Senor wasn’t far from Mr. Romney’s side, whether at a major speech underlining his tough stand on Iran, or at an intimate breakfast fundraiser at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel, the first event of its kind (price tag: $50,000 U.S. a plate).

Mr. Senor, 41, is an unusual hybrid: He is a policy wonk, media maven, successful author and financier. He made headlines last weekend when he told reporters that if Israel launched a pre-emptive unilateral strike on Iran’s nuclear program, Mr. Romney “would respect” that decision, a claim Mr. Senor softened somewhat in a later statement.

For his part, Mr. Romney said in an address on Sunday that preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons “must be our highest national-security priority,” but made no mention of an Israeli attack.

The trip has attracted its share of controversy. Mr. Romney departed from official U.S. policy and described Jerusalem as the “capital of Israel,” a label that Palestinians say undermines their claims to the city. During the fundraising breakfast, Mr. Romney also compared the economic success of Israelis to that of Palestinians, attributing some of the difference to “culture.” Such a comment is “racist” and “shows a lack of knowledge,” said Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Mr. Senor’s job is to help Mr. Romney navigate such storms. Along with deep connections to the political elites in the United States and Israel, Mr. Senor has a keen understanding of today’s rough-and-tumble media environment. He is married to Campbell Brown, a former anchor on CNN, and previously served as the chief U.S. spokesman in Iraq under president George W. Bush.

Mr. Senor is “a great networker,” said Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, who was one year ahead of Mr. Senor at the University of Western Ontario. He “really understands the granularities [of foreign policy] but also understands how to articulate a message to the media.”

Mr. Senor was unable to comment due to travel, said a spokesperson for the Foreign Policy Initiative, a think tank he helped found.

Born in upstate New York, he moved with his family to Toronto when he was a child. He grew up in “a big Jewish family of passionate talkers and passionate cooks,” noted an article in The New York Times on the occasion of his wedding to Ms. Brown, whose family is Catholic and hails from Louisiana.

Mr. Senor remains close to friends he made in Canada, whether from high school (Forest Hill Collegiate), summer camp (Camp Winnebagoe), or university (Western). His mother still lives in Toronto.

He caught the foreign-policy bug early. While still in high school, Mr. Senor and a friend drove to Washington and finagled internships with members of Congress by knocking on doors.

“This is a 16-year old Canadian kid who doesn’t know anyone,” recalled Jonathan Ehrlich, a friend of Mr. Senor’s from summer camp who now runs Copious, a social commerce start-up in California. “He hustled his tail off.”

After graduating from Western, he studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and worked for a Republican senator from Michigan. For good measure, he also attended Harvard Business School.

Along the way, Mr. Senor displayed a talent for attracting mentors in high places. They included David Rubenstein, head of the private-equity giant Carlyle Group, where Mr. Senor worked, and William Kristol, the dean of neo-conservative commentators, who took an early interest in his career.

The crucible of Mr. Senor’s experience in politics came in 2003, when he became the chief spokesman for Paul Bremer, who was heading the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. His detractors say Mr. Senor’s job was to hide the truth of the rapidly deteriorating situation in the country. In the book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Rajiv Chandrasekaran memorably quoted Mr. Senor as saying: “Off the record, Paris is burning. On the record, security and stability are returning to Iraq.”

Returning to the United States, Mr. Senor became a commentator for Fox News and started a private-equity firm, Rosemont Capital. His partner in that endeavour: Chris Heinz, a classmate from Harvard who is the stepson of Senator John Kerry, formerly a Democratic candidate for president.

In 2006, Mr. Romney came calling. Then governor of Massachusetts, he had decided to explore a presidential run. “I can’t think of anyone who Mitt has ever met that he hit it off with so immediately as Dan Senor,” recalled Beth Myers, Mr. Romney’s chief of staff, in a recent article in Tablet Magazine. Mr. Senor served as a foreign-policy adviser during Mr. Romney’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to win the Republican nomination.

It turned out Mr. Senor had yet another trick up his sleeve. Together with his brother-in-law, an Israeli journalist, he authored Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle. A hit in Israel, it also reached the ranks of best-selling business books in the United States.

His friends say they expect even bigger things from Mr. Senor in the future. In 2010, Republican leaders reportedly encouraged him to run for a Senate seat in New York, but he decided against it.

“Nothing that boy does would surprise me,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “If he chooses to do it, he’ll do it. He’s as good as anybody and more passionate than most.”

Follow on Twitter: @jslaternyc

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