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Romney Applies Lessons of 2008 to 2012 Run

Romney Applies Lessons of 2008 to 2012 Run

By Erin McPike and Carl M. Cannon - July 15, 2011


Nearly every day a new press announcement -- in all-capital letters -- arrives from Mitt Romney's Boston-based campaign headquarters that reveals some milestone in the former Massachusetts governor's second and more serious race for the White House.

On Tuesday came the support of three New Hampshire county attorneys: Peter Heed, Scott Murray and Jim Reams. Earlier in the day he unveiled six "additional" members of his Iowa leadership team. Monday's news was that Gordon Smith, a former two-term Oregon senator who lost his 2008 bid for re-election, is backing Romney this time. (When Smith, who is a Mormon, was in the Senate four years ago, he backed Arizona Sen. John McCain over Romney.)

When his campaign is not announcing the support of Utah or California elected officials, Colorado party leaders, or naming his Idaho statewide steering committee, Mitt Romney himself is starring in web videos offering his critique of the man he wants to replace in the Oval Office. Slightly less frequent are the advisories that announce he's traveling out-of-state somewhere -- most often New Hampshire -- invariably to meet with small business owners.

Doling out such carefully scripted crumbs to the news media allows the front-running candidate to control his message while laying low and keeping questions to a minimum -- while he quietly amasses a large war chest. This strategy is largely without risk -- the worst campaign reporters can do is ignore these item-lets -- and it is indicative of how differently Romney is pursuing the goal that eluded him four years ago.

Insanity, Rita Mae Brown once wrote, is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. Although Romney is certainly ambitious, nobody has ever called him insane. And before he takes on President Obama -- and even before he can vanquish a restive and rowdy field of fellow Republicans -- the Mitt Romney of 2012 must vanquish the Mitt Romney of 2008.

Four years ago, Romney was nothing if not accessible to the press, and he often took questions twice a day. This summer, he's treating reporters as though they have an unpleasant social disease.

In the previous campaign, former Romney aides say (only half-jokingly), their plan was to sink money into straw polls -- like the Iowa Straw Poll in Ames -- so that they could effectively buy an organizational victory to show strength. He won the straw poll but lost the Iowa caucuses. Romney, a business consultant by trade, doesn't plan to waste money organizing for the straw poll again.

In 2007-2008, Romney took up hard-line immigration reform as a pet issue -- among many such stances he used in hopes of convincing grass-roots conservatives that he was one of them. This time around, Romney is focusing on one big-picture issue of interest to conservatives, moderates and liberals alike: job creation and the federal role in guiding the U.S. economy.

At this point in his last race, Romney was already pouring money into advertising on TV in the early nominating states. Now he's letting inexpensive web videos do the talking.

Finally, four years ago, Romney came out swinging against his fellow GOPers, running early and very negative ads attacking his rivals for positions that he had -- until very recently -- espoused himself. To say that this didn't endear him to the rest of the Republican field is an understatement. So far this year, Romney's approach to his competition for the GOP nomination has ranged from disinterest to graciousness.

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Erin McPike is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at emcpike@realclearpolitics.com. Carl M. Cannon is the Washington editor for RealClearPolitics.

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