When moderator Tim Russert asked why she would support a 16-year-old girl being able to get an abortion without parental consent when the same teen would be unable to legally get a tattoo in Massachusetts, O’Brien joked, “Would you like to see my tattoo?”
Romney, casting himself as the type of moderate that more-liberal voters should be willing to consider, did well in the three one-on-one debates (though he did lose his temper at one point, telling O’Brien that her interruptions and accusations were “unbecoming.”)
By the time the final poll was released, the race was a dead heat. Women voters in particular moved toward Romney, helping him reduce an 18-percentage point gender gap to 8.
He won by almost 5 percentage points.
The shifts that Romney made in a compressed time period were easier when he was in Massachusetts, particularly because he had not been subject to presidential-level attack ads and scrutiny.
“A state campaign with one set of voters and one major media market is kind of like a Jet Ski: It’s very maneuverable and easy to turn,” said Rob Gray, an adviser during Romney’s 2002 race. “A presidential campaign, where you’re worried about a dozen battleground states and a dozen different media markets, is more like an ocean liner, where your course has been set pretty far in advance and it’s tricky to make quick turns.”
Still, a decade later, as the former Massachusetts governor returned to the Bay State last weekend to raise money and prepare for Wednesday’s debate, he may be able to take heart, even as many are ready to write his political obituary: In a previous race — in fact, in the only race he’s ever won — he was down in the polls before using debates, a sharper message, and an ad campaign to dominate on election day.
“He’s good in a crisis,” Murphy said. “When things are going tough he’s calm and he’s remarkably clearheaded. . . . I wouldn’t write him off.”
Matt Viser can be reached at email@example.com.