Presidential races

Romney’s campaign strategy comes under fire from Republicans

A growing chorus of Republicans are questioning the wisdom of Mitt
Romney’s campaign strategy of maintaining a lower profile and being less
effervescent than the former Massachusetts governor had been in his
2008 campaign.

Romney’s effort to set a more lax pace in launching the Republican
presidential cycle, and his deliberate game plan of picking and choosing
his public availabilities, left the door open to other Republicans —
namely, Texas Gov. Rick Perry — to enter the race and wage a
credible challenge to Romney.

{mosads}If Romney had been more aggressive, some Republicans say, he
might have discouraged Perry and dispelled the continuous murmurs of
additional candidates who might enter the race.

“Maybe it will
work, but I’ve never thought you win the presidency by being cautious,”
said veteran GOP strategist Mark McKinnon. “Given all the challenges we
face today, people today want bold leadership more than ever. Playing
prevent defense may keep the opponents from scoring much, but it doesn’t
do much to excite the crowd.”

“I’ve always been a great admirer of his. But he’s really made,
sadly, a limited effort in South Carolina,” said South Carolina Rep. Joe
Wilson (R), who had supported former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s (R)
presidential bid. “He really has been absent.”


The campaign’s logic has been transparent from the outset: it has
always believed that by setting a later start day and by having a more
relaxed schedule, it would minimize public fatigue of Romney, and limit
the rate at which the staff would burn through its fundraising, allowing
Romney to stockpile cash instead.

“Right now, your greatest enemy is overexposure. People get tired of
seeing the same person day in and day out,” he said in early June on
CNN. “And until Labor Day hits, I’m going to be pretty quiet.”

After Labor Day, as promised, Romney’s campaign will kick into
higher gear; he will outline a plan for jobs and the economy on Sept. 6
in Nevada, an opportunity to counter President Obama’s own jobs speech
that week.

“Mitt Romney considers Rick Perry a friend and believes he will add a
lot to the discussion during the primary. But he is going to stay the
course and keep his focus on President Obama’s failed economic
policies,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “This country needs a
president who understands how the economy works and has private-sector
experience. That is why Mitt Romney is running.”

But Republicans still wonder whether it would have been more
beneficial for Romney to invest a little more time and effort this summer
in solidifying his status as the campaign’s front-runner.

The
former Massachusetts governor would have been able to do just that by
participating in the Ames straw poll earlier this month. Romney won the
event in 2007 but skipped it this time around, explaining that he
wouldn’t participate in any of these preliminary contests. But Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said Romney could have placed first or second at the Iowa
event if he had tried, and scared off other potential challengers if he
had done so.

“If Mitt Romney had competed aggressively in the Iowa Straw poll,
then it would have been harder for another candidate to enter the race,”
King said, referring in particular to Perry. “The message would have
been that you would have been too late to enter the race if Romney had
competed in the straw poll.”

Romney leads competitors for the Republican nomination, as he has
throughout the cycle. But he’s never built his advantage into a
commanding one; the latest Gallup poll has Romney in first place at 17
percent, and Perry’s nipping at his heels, at 15 percent.

Not all Republicans think Romney’s strategy is a bad one.

“I
think he’s been running a very smart campaign, speaking out when it
counts, focusing his critiques on Obama,” said Fred V. Malek, a longtime
Republican operative. Malek suggested that Perry’s decision to enter
the race was independent of Romney’s performance, which he praised as
“smart” for its focus on New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary.

Indeed, Romney has focused the bulk of his efforts in New Hampshire,
where he enjoys the biggest advantage in primary polling. Unlike 2008,
he is not lavishing as much attention on Iowa, opting instead to pepper
the map with trips to states with other early primaries, like South
Carolina, Florida, Nevada and Michigan, among others.

“The difference now, in 2012, is that there’s one big issue before the
American public, and that’s the economy,” said Kevin Madden, the
spokesman for Romney’s 2008 campaign. That campaign, Madden said, was
driven by a strategy that focused on raising Romney’s name ID by
engaging on virtually every issue.

“I think the 2012 Romney campaign is much more focused, and much
more methodical and deliberative in articulating Gov. Romney’s vision on
that issue,” he explained.

But allies of Perry have
cited a sense that Romney had been absent as part of the reasoning
behind the Texas governor’s late entry into the campaign. An increasing
number of Republicans portray the primary as an emerging battle between
Romney and Perry, with the other candidates — including Reps. Michele
Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas) — falling to the margins.

“I think he’s been way too timid. He ran a Rose Garden Strategy with
Republican primary voters,” said a prominent GOP pollster who’s
inclined to support Perry. The pollster likened Romney’s strategy to
former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s (R) 2008 strategy of
neglecting early states in favor of the fifth contest of the cycle,
Florida’s primary.

“Gov. Romney seems to be vacant from the playing field, and maybe
that’s going to be a good strategy for him,” Perry’s top South Carolina
adviser, Katon Dawson, said last week in an interview. “But you’ve got
to win a primary first before you get to the big dance.”

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