Mitt Romney gets personal


MITT ROMNEY’S acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Tampa this week is unlikely to find its way into any anthology of political oratory but it may help to soften his personal image and to focus the message of his campaign to replace Barack Obama as president.

What it failed to do was to explain how his economic policies would improve the lot of most Americans or how his bellicose foreign policy rhetoric would make his country safer. Famously awkward and reserved, Mr Romney finally offered voters a glimpse of his more human side, becoming emotional as he remembered his parents and spoke of raising his five sons and talking in a relaxed and engaging way about his Mormon faith.

After a number of weeks where his accident-prone campaign was blown off course by one controversy after another – from his own gaffe-strewn trip to Europe to the outlandish remarks about rape and abortion from a Republican senatorial candidate – Mr Romney was firmly back on message in Tampa. That message, designed to appeal to the handful of voters who have not yet made up their minds in this polarised election year, is that Mr Obama is neither wicked nor ill-intentioned but simply a disappointment.

“Hope and Change had a powerful appeal,” Mr Romney said. “But tonight I’d ask a simple question: If you felt that excitement when you voted for Barack Obama, shouldn’t you feel that way now that he’s President Obama? You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.”

This “more in sorrow than in anger” tone is reflected in Republican television advertisements in swing states, which tend to eschew frontal attacks on Mr Obama in favour of a gentler approach, aimed at helping disappointed voters to overcome their reluctance to reject a president they find personally likeable. Mr Obama’s likeability is just one of his advantages in a race that sees him clutching a narrow lead despite a poor economic performance and consistently high unemployment. Part of Mr Romney’s difficulty lies in his consistently poor performance among a number of important demographic groups, notably African-Americans, women and Hispanic voters. He will never prise most black voters away from the first African-American president but Mr Romney sought this week to persuade women and Hispanic voters to give him a second look. Unfortunately for him, the Republican Party has become associated with harsh policies on such issues as abortion and immigration which make that task more challenging.

Mr Romney’s remarks on foreign policy, a frankly eccentric interlude that appeared to threaten Russia and to call for the abandonment of the international diplomatic engagement with Iran, was the weakest part of his acceptance speech. Few American voters are concerned about foreign policy this year however and Mr Romney has probably succeeded this week in Tampa in making November’s election a closer and more unpredictable contest.

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