Skip to comments.Romney builds image as front-runner
Posted on 08/19/2007 8:35:07 PM PDT by restornu
DES MOINES, Iowa - Amid the sweaty crowds at Iowa's sweltering state fair recently, Mitt Romney was a sight to behold shaking hands and ambling toward the Iowa Pork Producers building.
Looking freshly scrubbed in his long-sleeve shirt and creased white trousers, the former Massachusetts governor drew gasps from throngs of reporters awaiting his arrival.
"The man must have no pores," marveled one sodden journalist.
"He can't be human."
Just another meaningless photo op in a presidential election off to a ridiculously early start. But it also encapsulates one of the biggest questions surrounding Romney, who is looking more and more likely to become the Republican presidential nominee:
Is this guy for real?
* * *
The 6-foot-2 multimillionaire is often described as "matinee-idol" handsome. Truth be told, with his angular, tan face, jutting chin, and temples graying just so, the 60-year-old Romney is more soap-opera handsome or game-show-host handsome.
Which is to say Romney's improbably good looks can be off-putting at a time when "authentic" is the new thing in politics.
"With that perfect hair and those bright white teeth, Mitt is exactly the kind of polished politician I'm tired of," said Mark Zlab, a Republican doctor outside of Des Moines. "People want a candidate they can trust to talk truth."
Well maybe, Dr. Zlab. But a lot of solid Iowa Republicans see Romney, a proven problem-solver in the private sector, as the antidote to Washington's problems.
Hours after Zlab dismissed him as a phony, Romney solidified his position as the front-runner in Iowa's crucial first-in-the-nation caucuses by handily winning the GOP presidential straw poll. Never mind that he more or less bought the win, spending at least $2-million, he won.
"Pleased as punch," declared Romney, who is worth about $200-million and actually sounds natural saying things like "gosh" and "pleased as punch."
* * *
You probably know little about Willard Mitt Romney, the wholesome Mormon who has been married 38 years and never in his life had a glass of wine, let alone a hangover.
Based on most polls of Republicans nationally, and in Florida, he's an also-ran rival to Rudy Giuliani and likely candidate Fred Thompson, the actor and former Tennessee senator.
Forget that. Modern political history suggests Romney is the real front-runner. Gradually and methodically, he has built strong campaign organizations and comfortable poll leads where it really matters: Iowa and New Hampshire.
Winning the nomination is all about momentum. Success in those crucial states could catapult Romney to the top in the big contests that follow, South Carolina on Jan. 19 and Florida on Jan. 29.
Early on, Romney secured some of the best political operatives to be had in the Sunshine and Palmetto states, though he is showing little traction in the polls so far.
Unlike Giuliani, John McCain or Thompson, Romney is still unknown to most voters. Florida, where Romney has held 13 public campaign events compared with 200 in Iowa, is so big that poll numbers rarely move without significant TV advertising.
"We wanted to prove the point that when voters got to know Mitt Romney they liked him a lot," national campaign manager Beth Myers said of the heavy emphasis on Iowa and New Hampshire. "We focused laserlike on a couple states. I would not say we've played very hard in South Carolina or Florida yet at all."
His standing in Iowa and New Hampshire is partly due to him loaning his campaign $9-million from his personal fortune and spending more than $32-million in the first six months of the year. Giuliani has spent $17-million.
Still, those lead positions also are built on grass roots campaigning and are all the more impressive given the attacks Romney has taken for transforming from moderate Republican to social conservative as he began looking at a run for national office.
The man who once had undocumented Guatemalans cutting his lawn and praised the contributions of such workers to America's economy now campaigns as an immigration hard-liner. The Massachusetts candidate who promised to do more for gay rights than Ted Kennedy, who backed laws restricting gun ownership and firmly supported abortion rights, now casts himself as the strongest social conservative among the leading Republicans.
"Can't you just hear the Democratic convention if he's the nominee? Can't you hear the 30 speeches? 'He was here then, but he's here now. ... He said this then, but he says this now,' " said Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, an underdog presidential candidate who argues Romney's inconsistent positions would doom him in the general election.
Romney repeatedly faces questions about his abortion evolution.
"In the public sphere that's probably my greatest mistake," he told a white-haired questioner in cinder block meeting room in Grundy Center, Iowa, the other day. "The prolife movement that I'm part of wants to change people's hearts and minds, and I'm one of those that got changed."
* * *
The one-term governor selling change does have a track record: a Republican who has won over liberals in deep blue Massachusetts; a product of the private sector who made millions turning around troubled companies like Staples and Domino's Pizza and who took over the 2002 Winter Olympics mired in scandal and debt and turned it into a success.
He understands 2008 will be a tough year for Republicans. In an interview with the St. Petersburg Times, Romney sounded more like a bridge-building general election candidate than red meat primary contender.
"There's a great commonality of concern in this country. People are very frustrated that Washington is unable to deal with the challenges we face or take advantage of our opportunities, and that concern has reached a crescendo," Romney said. "People are angry and want to see change. It's not Republican, it's not Democrat - it's Washington."
Romney campaigns as a Washington outsider, but the privileged son of former American Motors Corp. chairman George Romney is no political newcomer. His gregarious dad was a moderate governor of Michigan, and at 21 Mitt watched his father's formidable presidential candidacy crumble after saying he had been "brainwashed" into supporting the Vietnam war.
"Gotcha media was just getting going at that point, and there were a couple of campaigns that blew up over things that in retrospect seem awfully small," said Romney, noting that ultimately his father was proven right about American being misled about Vietnam.
Romney is a much more careful and usually predictable stump speaker than his father was. In small gatherings, the former governor sometimes responds to questions instead of people.
In small town Tama, in an area of the state shedding manufacturing jobs, an elderly woman said she worried about all the jobs heading overseas. Romney cheerfully offered that American productivity is rising and that he's a fighter for jobs.
Beneath that unflappable polish, though, come flashes of humanity, if not outright weirdness.
As when he named Battlefield Earth, by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, as his favorite book. Or in Virginia when, for reasons unclear, he answered a question about nuclear power by noting that Adolf Hitler had pioneered liquefied coal.
Romney is still living down a vignette one of his five sons shared with a reporter about Dad strapping their late Irish setter, Seamus, in a carrier to the car roof for a cross-country drive.
Animal rights activists howled, but Romney made no apologies.
"They're not happy that my dog loves fresh air," Romney said.
Oh Romney has vision don’t you worry!
A vision of Rockefeller Republicanism.
He’s not the front-runner. Rudy and Fred Thompson currently occupy that title.
Write that down....
What is Fred's message?
Aw, how special.
Personally I'd go with "used car salesman handsome", but I don't really know the gay lingo.
No way, but I have no say how you think!
Uhhh, just who exactly are these polished politicians? Names please.
Romney’s message is more conservative than Rudy’s. (obvious)
Romney’s message is arguably more socially conservative than Thompson’s. (Thompson’s a federalist)
Romney’s message is more conservative than McCain’s. (immigration)
Is Huckabee’s message more conservative? I haven’t checked. I’ve heard he’s not so much of a fiscal conservative. That’s a dealbreaker, if so.
I am a very ugly person. Last time I was in Iowa everyone was crazy about me.
What Romney doesn’t have is a message. All the good looks, charm & cash means nothing if you don’t have a message.
A John Edwards type.
That's without getting into his past flip-flops.
And that's why he doesn't have a message, because he's unwilling to take a firm stand on anything -- he always has to leave wiggle room so he can change his spin based on who he's addressing.
Well that’s reassuring. I thought that he was an opportunist.
Or, it could be signing the permanent assault weapons ban.
Or maybe signing a socialized medicine plan [complete with taxpayer-funded abortions] that Hillary, John Kerry, Teddy Kennedy and James Carville have raved about.
Or maybe it was the inundation of homosexual propaganda that filled the public schools of Massachusetts during Romney's four years as Governor.
It might have even been his use of his executive power to force the justices of the peace in the Commonwealth to perform gay marriages.
But heck, who knows, there are probably still lots of "mistakes" we'll still find out about.
Conservatives would do well to remember, though, that at the time he did all those things, Mitt Romney defended them vociferously. He didn't consider them to be "mistakes," at least until he faced pro-life, pro-family conservative presidential voters. And, many of them he still defends today, one way or another, if you sift through the ocean of spin from his paid mercenaries.
He's gaining because he doesn't hedge, he goes right to the point and out consevative's the other candidates.
Federalism. Return to basic Constitutional principles.
Illegal immigration, the emerging China threat, fair trade, war on terror.
I don't give a rat's ass about Rudy or Huckabee.
Romney has no credibility on social conservative issues because of his record and past conflicting statements, so the comparison is specious.
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