Election 2012: Mitt Romney Readies a Different Kind of Campaign

发布者: lorespirit | 发布时间: 2012-9-16 18:11| 查看数: 1488| 评论数: 1|

Once more, Willard Mitt Romney looked great, and not just because of his rugged jawline, which showed

no sign of slackening, or his thick blow-dry, which had gone more gray in just the right places. No, there

was something else, a feeling in the air as he moved through his adoptive state — where else? New

Hampshire — which so harshly rebuked him in the 2008 Republican primary by choosing John McCain.

It was four days before the 2010 midterm elections, and Romney was making the Granite State rounds.

People applauded him for just walking into a room. At the neocolonial estate of one wealthy contributor,

the former Massachusetts governor glided from handshake to handshake, delighted to see so many he

called "old friends," while the new ones lined up to snap pictures. "This is New Hampshire," Romney

remarked in the childlike way of a candidate at work, who often must say something and nothing at the

same time. "This is just an extraordinary place."

This was also Romney in his element, or at least that's the hope of many in his inner circle. As the toll of

the opening bell for the 2012 presidential campaign nears, Romney finds himself as the closest thing to a

Republican front runner, leading the very early polls, well positioned as a business ace in an age of

unemployment, with an unmatched fundraising base and a clear shot at capitalizing on the GOP's habit

of nominating the guy who lost last time. He has retooled his political operation and honed his message.

What no one knows for sure, however, is whether he has gotten any better at getting people to actually

vote for him.

But we are jumping ahead of ourselves. Romney is, if you can believe his aides, not officially running for

anything. Rather, he arrived at this fundraiser, the last stop on a 32-state, 129-event coach-class

barnstorm of the country, having quietly given away more than $1 million in 2010 while other potential

2012 contenders spent time trading sound bites on Fox News. His aides claimed this was the final act of

an altruistic epic that began just weeks after Barack Obama won the White House. Romney gathered his

team at his home outside Boston to share a scrapbook filled with thank-you notes from people he met on the trail. "We literally passed it around like the gold telephone in The Godfather," remembers one


In Romneyland, the scrapbook is very important, because it's used by aides to disprove the charge that

Romney has been running nonstop since 2008. As they tell it, it was all those cards and letters that

convinced Romney, who spent $44 million of his own money in 2008, to write another book and hit the

road. After all, no one likes a permanent candidate, especially one with millions to spare. "I don't think he

intended to run again," insists Stuart Stevens, a former strategist for George W. Bush and John McCain

who has become one of Romney's top political advisers. "If things were going well in the country, I really

do not think he would be running. I can almost guarantee you that."

It's more accurate to say that Romney's 2008 effort never really closed up shop. A close reading of his

Federal Election Commission reports shows the careful bequests to those who might be helpful to his

presidential ambitions. He also has kept up a complex network of state-level political-action committees,

which have allowed him to legally fund his movements around the country without triggering federal

contribution limits. In recent months, Romney's intentions have become so clear that it's almost comical

to deny them. (In the final week before the midterms, he visited Iowa, South Carolina and New

Hampshire.) At his first two events in New Hampshire, his former state-level campaign strategists

hovered in the back of the room, apparently ready to dive in. Soon after, supporters got the

Romney-family Christmas card, which pictured the candidate with his wife and 14 of his 15 grandchildren,

one of whom seemed to be crying. "Guess which grandchild heard that Papa might run again?" ran the


Meanwhile, Romney brought his skills as a turnaround artist to his own operation. In 2009 he sold two of

his four multimillion-dollar homes, which had become political liabilities in this age of downsizing. At his

11-acre (4.5 hectare) estate in Wolfeboro, N.H., he continued to host brainstorming salons with political

strategists, campaign donors and party insiders, discussing the state of the nation and trying to work out

just what to do next. Even the story behind his story became a selling point. He commissioned a

ghostwriter to help him with a book, but after receiving an opening chapter, he decided to write it himself.

No Apology: The Case for American Greatness is focused largely on foreign policy — the issue set that,

more than anything else, lost him the 2008 primaries to McCain. He reshuffled his advisers, promoting

his old communications director, Matt Rhoades, and cutting ties with some of the consultants who had

contributed to the divisions and confusion last time. In recent weeks, he resigned from the board of

Marriott International and traveled to Afghanistan to both meet President Hamid Karzai and, as his office

described it, "train Afghans" in issues like "leadership, public service, economic opportunity and

democratic participation." Romney dodges any admission of personal political motivation and was the

only major candidate-in-waiting to decline to be interviewed for a recent Fox News 2012 election special.

The Health Care Complication

Aides say Romney long ago decided that his next campaign would start later, run smaller and run

smarter, particularly when it comes to managing expectations. "Last time, Mitt's campaign was like IBM.

This time, if he runs, he wants to be like JetBlue," says Eric Fehrnstrom, Romney's longtime adviser and

spokesman. "Which is to say, more nimble and more efficient and ready to respond." Romney will likely

benefit from a new primary calendar that limits the number of states that can hold winner-take-all

contests before April 2012. That technical change will allow a candidate like Romney potentially to survive losses to populists like Sarah Palin in Iowa or Mike Huckabee in South Carolina. "Whereas before,

Governor Romney had to play in the first handful of states," says Tim Albrecht, Romney's 2008 Iowa

spokesman, who does not plan to reprise the role, "he has the ability to play in 30 or 40 states."

But then this is not the first time Romney has looked the part. And as his supporters well know, looks

alone are not enough. "In any normal situation, he would be the winner hands down, following a few

primary skirmishes, because he is the heir apparent," explains David Carney, a New Hampshire

Republican strategist who has ties to Governor Rick Perry of Texas but so far remains uncommitted in

2012. "But we are probably in a new environment where that is not going to be worth very much."

The most damning indictment of Romney's 2008 campaign came from his archrival, former Arkansas

governor Mike Huckabee, who began telling a story to reporters a few weeks before he beat Romney in

the Iowa caucuses. It was the tale of a wealthy man who opened a dog-food company, hiring the best

nutritionist, the best marketing people and the best sales force in the industry. When the product was

released to great fanfare, sales flagged, so the wealthy man gathered his staff and demanded to know

why. "There was a long silence," Huckabee would say. "And then finally somebody in the back of the

room said, 'Because the dogs won't eat the darn stuff, sir.' "

Throughout the 2008 cycle, Romney often appeared to approach the business of politics too much like a

business — outmaneuvering opponents with positioning and polish when it was human factors like

empathy and approachability that made up voters' minds. He too frequently seemed to take expedient

positions, shifting on gay marriage, gun control and abortion at the most politically advantageous times;

sunk huge sums into winning just about every early straw poll east of the Missouri River; and deployed

his army of strapping sons and their spouses to blitz Iowa. He was dogged in delivering the political prose

but struggled with the poetry. When people left his events, some campaign veterans will now admit, too

often he had not closed the deal.

The test in 2012 is likely to be even more rigorous. "We are kind of in the era of true believers," says one

prominent 2008 Romney supporter, who, like many in Romney's extended circle, asked to not be

identified. "He will still need to overcome 'Is he genuine?'"

In the early months of the campaign, no issue is likely to dominate these discussions more than that of

the similarities between Romney's health-reform plan in Massachusetts, which included a mandate that

nearly all citizens buy health insurance, and the national plan pushed by Obama and despised by the

GOP rank and file. Squaring this circle won't be easy. In a mid-November conference call with campaign

donors, Romney argued that his reform did not raise taxes while Obama's did. It was a nuanced

distinction, given the federal assistance that Romney depended on to pay for his state's plan. "I think it's

kind of a cheap way out," says MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, a supporter of the Obama effort who

advised Romney on health reform. "The only way we could do it without raising taxes was that the feds

paid half the cost."

Romney also repeated the claim he has made since as far back as 2007: there is a big difference

between a state-level mandate to purchase health insurance and a national one, which he considers both

unconstitutional and unwise. "A one-size-fits-all national health care system is bound to fail," he said in

August 2007 at a speech before the Florida Medical Association. "It ignores the very dramatic differences between states and relies on the Washington bureaucracy to manage." Such distinctions have already

been rejected by some Tea Party leaders, but Romney aides say that health care was also an issue in

the 2008 Republican primary debates. "We understand that there is more heat on the issue now because

of Obamacare," says Fehrnstrom. "But everybody brings their record to the race."

Unemployed and Conservative

As the crowd gathered in Stratham, N.H., Romney awaited his introduction by Frank Guinta, the mayor of

nearby Manchester and now a newly elected Congressman, part of the incoming Republican wave.

"We're pleased and honored to have him back in New Hampshire," Guinta said. "Although we have been

seeing a lot of him lately." Folks started laughing, and Guinta quickly realized his mistake. "No, no," he

stammered, "because he lives in Wolfeboro. There may be another reason. I don't know."

Why won't Romney just come out and say he wants to be President? He knows well the hazard of

entering the process too early and becoming a target. So he has feigned confusion at what all the fuss is

about. He has become practiced at this sort of false modesty, often telling the story of a phone call he

placed to a corporate executive's secretary, who had asked for the name of Romney's company. "Well,

I'm currently unemployed," he deadpans. Romney has decided he needs to show voters he doesn't take

himself too seriously.

But on this day in Stratham, he knew that a national political reporter was lurking in the room, and while

Romney would not grant an interview, an aide said the governor didn't mind previewing his take on

President Obama. So he cut right into it, with the muscular language of a man who can get the

conservative juices flowing. "There will be an abject and utter repudiation of Obamaism," he said.

Then came a blizzard of one-liners, all delivered to the room smoothly, without notes, describing the

President as an ideologue who exploited economic crises for his own job-stifling agenda. In a few short

minutes, Romney mentioned cap and trade, card check, the U.S. Constitution, the Founding Fathers, the

spirit of free enterprise, the stimulus "that grew government," Obama's international "apologizing for

America" and the President's leisurely penchant for golf, which, Romney made clear, he does not share.

"This President and his fellow travelers in Washington fundamentally don't understand America,"

Romney said. "They don't understand what it is that makes this nation so successful, so powerful, so


He had the crowd hanging on every word, though it was always his crowd — well heeled, with name-tag

stickers, juggling hors d'oeuvres and refreshments. This was still the pregame warm-up, after all. But

Romney has been practicing. He has been doing his homework. Plainly, he is ready to try again.


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