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Document shows Romney's strategies

Plan addresses faith, rivals, shift on issues

Here are some views of Mitt Romney causing concern inside his campaign: His hair looks too perfect, he's not a tough war time leader, and he has earned a reputation as "Slick Dancing Mitt" or "Flip-Flop Mitt."

Romney and his advisers have identified those perceptions as threats to his bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, according to an exhaustive internal campaign document obtained by the Globe.

The 77-slide PowerPoint presentation offers a revealing look at Romney's pursuit of the White House, outlining a plan for branding himself, framing his competitors, and allaying voter concerns about his record, his Mormon faith, and his shifts on key issues like abortion.

Dated Dec. 11, the blueprint is wide-ranging and analyzes in detail the strengths and weaknesses of Romney and his two main Republican rivals, Senator John McCain of Arizona and Rudolph W. Giuliani, former mayor of New York. The plan, which top Romney strategist Alex Castellanos helped to draft, charts a course for Romney to emerge as the nominee, but acknowledges that the "electorate is not where it needs to be for us to succeed."

It is unclear how the campaign is using the document. However, its expansiveness, level of detail and the involvement of Castellanos suggest that it is a significant strategic blueprint. On the campaign trail, Romney is sounding some of the themes outlined in it.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden would not confirm or deny the plan's authenticity, saying only that the former governor has received an "overly abundant" amount of input on how to run his campaign. Asked specifically about the contents, Madden said: "If anything, it's a compilation of political conventional wisdom."

"We're obviously very, very focused on introducing Mitt Romney and his vision for leading the country into the future," Madden said. "And everybody recognizes that he's somebody with a lot of energy and a lot of ideas."

Campaign blueprints analyzing a candidate and the competition are not unusual; earlier this year, the New York Daily News obtained and wrote about a similar dossier from Giuliani's campaign. And the Romney presentation lacks any big bombshells. Still, it provides a window into the challenges and opportunities Romney and his advisors envision as he tries to win the Republican primary.

The plan, for instance, indicates that Romney will define himself in part by focusing on and highlighting enemies and adversaries, such common political targets as "jihadism," the "Washington establishment," and taxes, but also Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, "European-style socialism," and, specifically, France. Even Massachusetts, where Romney has lived for almost 40 years, is listed as one of those "bogeymen," alongside liberalism and Hollywood values.

Indeed, a page titled "Primal Code for Brand Romney" said that Romney should define himself as a foil to Bay State Democrats such as Senators Edward M. Kennedy and John Kerry and former governor Michael Dukakis. Romney should position himself as "the anti-Kerry," the presentation says. But elsewhere in the plan, it's clear that Romney and his aides are aware he's open to the same charge that helped derail Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004: that he is a flip-flopper who has changed positions out of political expediency.

Because he is attempting to capture the conservative vote, Romney is facing persistent questions about his relatively recent shifts to more conservative positions on issues such as abortion, gay rights, and gun control. One page of the plan cites Kerry and says Romney doesn't want to spend 2007 facing skepticism about his conservative message.

The blueprint also describes political assets and vulnerabilities of McCain and Giuliani, who lead Romney in the polls.

McCain is described as a war hero and maverick with a compelling narrative and a reputation for wit, authenticity, and straight talk. But he's also seen as "too Washington," "too close to [Democratic] Left," an "uncertain, erratic, unreliable leader in uncertain times." "Does he fit The Big Chair?" the document asks. The plan calls McCain, 70, a "mature brand" and raises questions about whether he could handle the rigors of leading the free world.

Giuliani is called an outside-the-Beltway rock star and truth teller who earned the nation's trust for his leadership of New York City's response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But he is described as a one-dimensional Lone Ranger whose social views -- he supports abortion rights and civil unions for gay couples -- could destroy the "GOP brand." "We can't disqualify Dems like Hillary on social issues ever again" if Giuliani is the nominee, the document states.

The plan also touches on what it calls Giuliani's ethical issues, including his relationship with Bernard Kerik , former New York police commissioner who withdrew from consideration to become US homeland security secretary amid allegations of improprieties. It raises Giuliani's "personal political liabilities," an apparent reference to his three marriages and bitter public divorce from his second wife, Donna Hanover.

It is clear that Romney's campaign operatives plan to make sure that voters are familiar with the perceived weaknesses of McCain and Giuliani and conduct opposition research on the candidates. But the campaign, according to the blueprint, also wants to avoid attacking either man too directly or harshly, in part because Romney wants their supporters to ultimately shift to him. At a campaign stop in New Hampshire last week, he called McCain and Giuliani friends and national heroes.

The plan concedes that, with McCain and Giuliani in the race, Romney is unlikely to be the top pick for those voters looking for a "war/strong leader." His goal appears to be establishing himself as a credible second choice for those voters, but the first pick for voters looking for an energetic, optimistic, and innovative chief executive. (A page titled "Own the future" dubs McCain the past, Giuliani the present, and Romney the future. )

The case for Romney, according to the plan, is this: "Mitt Romney, tested, intelligent, get-it-done, turnaround CEO Governor and strong leader from outside Washington, is a better candidate than McCain & Giuliani to ensure that America's strength is maintained so we can meet a new generation of global challenges."

The document underscores Romney's aim to become the "only electable choice" for socially conservative voters. But the plan anticipates that Romney could face a serious threat if Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who is considered one of the GOP's leading conservative intellectuals, decides to enter the race.

Romney's sensitivity to his Mormon faith as a campaign issue is apparent throughout the plan.

It acknowledges that some view Mormonism as weird and lists ways Romney should defend his faith, from highlighting the way he has lived his life, rather than which church he attends, to acknowledging theological differences with mainline Christian denominations while refusing to be drawn into an extensive discussion of Mormon doctrine and practices. It also suggests Romney might soon need to address the issue head-on, perhaps as John F. Kennedy did in a 1960 speech amid concerns about his relationship to the Catholic Church.

The document appears to raise the possibility of Romney delivering such an address at George H.W. Bush's presidential library outside Houston, the same city where Kennedy gave his.

Enmity toward France, where Romney did his Mormon mission during college, is a recurring theme of the document. The European Union, it says at one point, wants to "drag America down to Europe's standards," adding: "That's where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France." The plan even envisions "First, not France" bumper stickers.

In addition, the document provides a Romney roadmap for the early primaries, suggesting that he hopes to emerge as a credible "alternative to frontrunner" in Iowa, win New Hampshire, show strength in South Carolina, and be dominant in states, such as Michigan, that are eyeing early primary dates. The plan suggests Romney make full use of new media to reach voters, from feeding videos to YouTube to perhaps creating his own radio programming.

Like every Republican in the race, Romney faces the delicate task of how to talk about President Bush, whom the country gives low job-approval ratings .

But the plan lists two ways Romney can set himself apart from Bush. The first says, simply, "Intelligence."

Scott Helman can be reached at shelman@globe.com.

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