Going off-the-cuff, Romney does himself few favors
Saturday, October 29, 2011
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mitt Romney may need a censor. For himself.
In the last few weeks in Nevada, the man who owns several homes told the state hit tough by the housing crisis: "Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom."
At one point in Iowa, earlier this year, the former venture capitalist uttered, "Corporations are people," with the country in the midst of a debate over Wall Street vs. Main Street. At an event in economically suffering Florida, the retiree — who is a multimillionaire many times over — told out-of-work voters, "I'm also unemployed."
Over the past year, the Republican presidential candidate has amassed a collection of off-the-cuff comments that expose his vulnerabilities and, taken together, cast him as out-of-touch with Americans who face staggering unemployment, widespread foreclosures and a dire outlook on the economy.
So far, the foot-in-mouth remarks haven't seemed to affect his standing in the nomination race.
Romney has run a far more cautious and disciplined campaign than his losing bid of four years ago. He's kept the focus on his core message: He's the strongest candidate able to beat President Barack Obama on the biggest issue of the campaign, the economy. He still enjoys leading positions in public opinion polls in early primary states and across the nation. Few, if any, of the other Republicans in the race have turned his remarks against him.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Romney's chief rival with the money to prove it, is all but certain to try. Perry has already started suggesting that Romney lives a life of privilege while he comes from humble roots. In an interview Friday with CNN, another GOP candidate, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, painted Romney as "a perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day."
And Romney's eyebrow-raising comments are tailor-made for critical TV ads.
Look no further than the Democratic Party and Obama's advisers for proof of that.
Each time Romney says something that makes even his closest aides grimace, Democrats quickly put together a Web video highlighting the remark — a preview of certain lines of attack come the general election should the former Massachusetts governor win the nomination.
"Mitt Romney's message to Arizona? You're on your own," says a new ad by the Democratic National Committee that jumps on Romney's foreclosure remarks.
Romney's team publicly dismisses their boss's occasional loose lips, dismissing them as inconsequential to voters focused on an unemployment rate hovering around 9 percent.
"It's a long campaign and at the end of the day people are going to judge Gov. Romney and his ability to take on President Obama over jobs and the economy. And certainly there will be a lot of back and forth as the campaign progresses," said Russ Schriefer, a Romney strategist.
"This election will be decided on big issues because the issues are so big and so important," Schriefer said. "And not on a gaffe or a mistake or a moment, any particularly moment. It's more about the big moments and who voters see and being able to turn the economy around."
It usually takes more than one gaffe or one mistake to undo a campaign. And other candidates have made their own potentially problematic comments.
Take, for instance, Herman Cain's assertion that the Wall Street protesters are in the streets to distract from Obama's record: "If you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself." Or Perry's suggestion that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is "almost treasonous": "If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I don't what y'all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas." Or former House Speaker Newt Gingrich explaining his infidelity: "There's no question at times of my life, partially driven by how passionately I felt about this country, that I worked far too hard and things happened in my life that were not appropriate."
But a string of unforced errors, when combined, can reinforce unfavorable perceptions of the candidate, as Romney aides privately acknowledge. And that's the trouble Romney faces — just as John Kerry damaged himself when he racked up a series of equivocating comments on a series of issues while the Democratic nominee in 2004.
President George W. Bush's re-election campaign used Kerry's waffling — conflicts between his votes and his quotes — to cast him as an opportunist who would shift his positions to win votes.
Romney gave his critics a similar opening over the past few days. In Ohio, he refused to say whether he would support a local ballot initiative even as he visited a site where volunteers were making hundreds of phone calls to help Republicans defeat it. Issue Two would repeal Ohio Gov. John Kasich's restrictions on public sector employee bargaining.
It turned out that Romney had already weighed in, supporting Kasich's efforts in a June Facebook post. And, a day after the Ohio visit, Romney made clear where he stood, saying he was "110 percent" behind the anti-union effort.
There have been other instances of comments that could come back to haunt him. In Arizona at one point, he tried to highlight his father's role running an auto company but inadvertently painted himself as a have, rather than a have not.
"See, I'm a Detroit guy, so, you know, I only have domestics," he said, then added: "I have a couple of Cadillacs, at two different houses. You know, small crossovers."
During a recent debate, Romney suggested that the discovery of illegal immigrants working on his yard during his first presidential campaign was a problem — not because it was illegal, but because "I'm running for office, for Pete's sake."
Comments like those could partly explain why Romney has kept a limited public schedule and favors closed events and appearances that play down spontaneous interaction with reporters.
Still, in some ways, the damage may already have been done. Expect to hear Romney's impolitic comments frequently as Republicans and Democrats alike try to derail Romney.
Associated Press writer Beth Fouhy in Boston contributed to this report.