In a shift, Mitt Romney’s campaign on Tuesday unveiled a new ad that embraced a more positive tone than his recent attacks on President Obama’s handling of the economy.
Romney’s team hopes that by debuting the affirmative message during the Olympics, the presumptive Republican nominee can both bolster his narrative at a time of national patriotism and sell voters on the idea he is the man who can bring the country back from the economic brink. It also represents an attempt to close the president’s large lead over Romney on likability.
In the commercial, Romney addresses the camera directly and cites his experiences as governor and at the helm of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics as examples of his leadership skills.
The 60-second ad shows Romney driving a car, talking about working with Democrats to balance the budget in Massachusetts and saving the Olympics from scandal and financial ruin. Ann Romney is shown at various points in the ad, as is a slew of American flags.
“The campaign is trying to use his personal narrative as the centerpiece for an argument to persuadable voters looking for a reason to support Romney,” Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said. “They want to get to the point of talking about the future, and you see when people think about the future, their two top priorities are jobs and the deficit.”
In a Gallup poll released Monday, 92 percent of respondents said creating new jobs is “very or extremely important” for the next president, 87 percent prioritized reducing corruption in the federal government and 86 percent identified reducing the federal deficit as a top area for focus. Romney touches on all three subjects in his ad.
Campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg stressed Romney’s abilities as a problem-solver.
“Throughout his life, Mitt Romney has shown he has what it takes to turn troubled enterprises around,” Henneberg said in an emailed statement. “As president, everything he does will be focused on restoring economic security for the middle class and helping our country achieve a brighter future.”
Romney has vowed to reduce the nation’s unemployment, which now stands at 8.2 percent, to 6 percent or lower by the end of his first term.
Democratic strategist Doug Thornell said the ad is part of Romney’s effort to define himself with the electorate, but he said it’s something the campaign should have done months ago.
“I think the Romney campaign is getting worried that people don’t know who this guy is,” Thornell said. “He’s still in negative territory in his favorables ... he hasn’t run out of road yet, but he’s running out of time to define himself.”
Thornell said the Romney campaign needs to hammer home two messages: “One, to make the case that the incumbent should be fired, and second, that the challenger should be hired — and they’ve failed to get that done.”
There’s no better time to drive up a candidate’s favorability numbers than during the Olympics, when millions of voters are regularly watching television — a rarity in summer months — and feeling a sense of nationalism.
“The Olympics and the pride people are having with that and the feel-good nature of the competitive sport are playing in a way that makes now a really good time to boost Romney’s positive impressions,” said Republican media strategist Chris Ingram. “You want to make him seem likable and tie him to what’s going on with the games.”
The Obama campaign likewise scrapped its relentless attack ads on Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital for positive spots in the days leading up the opening ceremonies in London.
In 2008, Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainMeghan McCain: 'SNL' parodies made me feel like 'laughing stock of the country' Our military shouldn't be held hostage to 'water politics' Meghan McCain blames 'toxic' hostility for 'The View' exit MORE (R-Ariz.) tried to capitalize on the Olympics’ large audience to debut his ads that mocked Obama as a “celebrity.” The Obama campaign earned kudos for its competing spot — which proudly declared that “the hands that built this nation can build a new economy” — while some political analysts criticized McCain’s strategy.
Four years later, the Obama campaign is seeking to shore up the president’s popularity, which remains his top asset. While Democrats want to remind voters of what they like about the commander in chief, Republican strategists say Romney’s ads are aimed at portraying Obama as economically ineffective.
“You do this by having a rotation of some of the positives mixed in with the negative,” Ingram said. “The positives are trying to get people to view the candidate as likable and having some solutions, but then with the negative ads — they resonate with people.”
Both campaigns are expected to ramp up their attacks during the final stretch of the race, something Obama acknowledged at a fundraiser with supporters on Monday evening.
“This phase of the campaign, I think you’re seeing a lot of negative ads and a lot of contrast ads,” Obama said at the dinner in New York. “Although when people start saying how terrible it is, I just have to remind them [to] take a look at what Jefferson and Adams had to say about each other, and democracy has always been pretty rough and pretty messy.”
He added that he is optimistic about his chances. “[I]f the election were held today,” Obama said, “I think it would be close, but I think we’d win.”
Noting that there were 99 days left until the election, Obama added, “If I can say that every single day for the next 99 days, then we will be able to embark on the next phase of this journey.”