Romney pressing to align his backers
Texas win lets him hone the message
WASHINGTON - On a sunny, windswept day last June, Mitt Romney appeared at the Bittersweet Farm in New Hampshire, served up his wife’s chicken-and-bean chili, and, in a speech packed with patriotic themes, formally announced he was running for president.
“I’m Mitt Romney,’’ he said by way of introduction. “I believe in America.’’
Almost exactly a year later, Romney finds himself in far different circumstances. A few hours before primary voters in Texas on Tuesday night put him over the top in delegates, giving him the 1,144 needed for his party’s nomination, he was on the Las Vegas Strip, holding court with casino magnate and top Republican donor Sheldon Adelson inside his opulent Venetian Hotel. Several blocks away, he appeared at a fund-raiser with media mogul Donald Trump, whose comments often overshadowed Romney.
Adelson and his wife, Miriam, poured $20 million into the super PAC supporting onetime Romney rival Newt Gingrich, and have yet to donate to the one supporting Romney. With the race against Obama expected to be the most costly ever, donors with such deep pockets as Adelson’s will be courted carefully.
And while Trump helped Romney raise money, the entertainment entrepreneur’s continued push to bring President Obama’s birth certificate into the national political discussion highlighted the struggles Romney faces in his efforts. He must win over conservatives skeptical of him during the primary while simultaneously appealing to independents needed in the general election.
Trump upstaged Romney at nearly every turn on Tuesday. Before Romney appeared at a campaign stop in Craig, Colo., to pillory Obama’s economic policies, Trump appeared on CNBC and said, “A lot of people are questioning [Obama’s] birth certificate.’’ When Romney’s airplane landed in Las Vegas, Trump’s was visible in all of the shots behind him. Later, Trump went on CNN and argued with host Wolf Blitzer over whether the birth certificate assertion was “ridiculous.’’
Trump, who briefly toyed with running for president, endorsed Romney earlier this year. The campaign is sponsoring a raffle for tickets to dine with Romney and Trump.
Romney has said he believes Obama was born in the United States, but he has done little to disavow Trump, or his comments.
“You know, I don’t agree with all the people who support me,’’ Romney told reporters on his campaign plane on Monday. “My guess is they don’t agree with everything I believe in. But I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I’m appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people.’’
On Tuesday, the Romney campaign released Romney’s birth certificate to Reuters news service, confirming that he was born in Detroit on March 12, 1947. It also shows that his father, George, was born in Mexico, his mother, Lenore, in Utah.
Obama’s campaign denounced Romney for not doing more to distance himself from discredited assertions that Obama was not born in this country, part of an emerging theme as Democrats seek to cast the challenger as a weak politician.
“If Mitt Romney lacks the backbone to stand up to a charlatan like Donald Trump because he’s so concerned about lining his campaign’s pockets, what does that say about the kind of president he would be?’’ Obama’s deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, said in a statement.
The Trump discussion, which dominated the news coverage, distracted from the theme Romney continued to hammer: the weak economy and what he views as Obama’s failure to fix it.
“The focus is going to stay, as it has been, on jobs and the economy,’’ said campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “That’s what compelled Governor Romney to get in the race. That’s why he’s running.’’
Romney faces several obstacles. He must now appeal to Hispanic voters he alienated during the primaries with his hard-line immigration stance. He needs to convince voters that he can empathize with their problems and concerns, and he needs to both energize the Republican base as well as win over some of those skeptical of him, including women and minorities.
Romney has bulked up his staff, adding a “coalitions director’’ to oversee outreach to various groups, including veterans, Hispanics, and African Americans. His campaign has also been coordinating more closely with the Republican National Committee to build a network of volunteers in crucial states.
Romney also has a potential health care curveball, with a Supreme Court decision coming within weeks that could strike down Obama’s law. The issue remains tough political terrain for Romney. Although he has vowed to repeal Obama’s federal law, Romney passed the state-level precursor while governor of Massachusetts.
He has yet to fully spell out what changes he would make on a federal level.
Despite Tuesday’s vote in Texas, Romney won’t become the official nominee until the end of August, when Republicans hold their convention in Tampa. But 1,144 delegates are needed for the nomination, and Romney started Tuesday just 58 shy. Texas has 152 delegates, and with no other candidate vying for votes Romney easily secured the votes he needs to formally mark the end of a Republican primary that was marked mostly by its volatility.
Romney’s race for delegates started with a several-vote win in Iowa - which, in the final tally several weeks later, became a narrow loss - and a resounding victory in New Hampshire before it ran into a brick wall in South Carolina.
Beset by poor debate performances and questions over why he would not release his tax return, Romney lost handily in the southern state to Newt Gingrich. Within days, Romney had released his tax returns, taken on a feistier approach, and benefited from a super PAC, Restore Our Future, that ran blistering television ads.
He won Florida handily, effectively stunting Gingrich’s momentum. But within two weeks, Santorum had risen as a major threat, harnessing the anti-Romney energy within the party, particularly among social conservatives, evangelical Christians, and the working class.
Romney eventually snuffed out Santorum’s threat - through wins in Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois - but he is still trying to consolidate support among those in the party that have remained wary. Still, he is now on the precipice of doing what his father, George, was unable to do. He’s about to become the first Mormon to be his party’s nominee, and the first Republican nominee from Massachusetts since Calvin Coolidge in 1924.
“He is the hardest-working person I’ve ever met besides his father, George Romney, who was a crazy man,’’ Ann Romney said in an interview with Fox News that will air on Wednesday. “But he - crazy good, crazy unbelievable good.’’
“They called my dad ‘The Brick,’ ’’ Mitt Romney added. “That was his nickname, The Brick, just solid. Just couldn’t penetrate.’’
But the journey in many ways is just beginning.
While he has traveled a long way since that windy day on a New Hampshire farm nearly a year ago, he is still a long way from being addressed, as a Vietnam veteran did that day, as “Mr. President.’’
Matt Viser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.