Mitt Romney’s ‘rich guy’ problem

August 27, 2012

TAMPA -- Of all the tasks that Mitt Romney must accomplishat this week's Republican National Convention, the toughest (and most important) is this: Convince voters -- particularly independents and undecideds -- that he is more than just a rich guy.


New numbers from a Washington Post-ABC News poll paint Romney's challenge in stark terms.  Six in ten registered voters said that Romney's policies in office would favor the wealthy while 30 percent said he would look more favorably on the middle class. (Six in ten voters said Obama's policies would favor the middle class.)

Inside the data, the numbers are equally troubling for the Republican presidential nominee.  Sixty percent of independents believe he would favor the wealthy in office. Two thirds of Midwestern voters -- a critical general election battle ground -- think Romney's policies would favor the wealthy.  In the states rated as toss up by the Washington Post, 59 percent said Romney's policies would favor the wealthy. Even a majority of voters 65 years old (and older), a group that trends Republican and are among the most reliable voters, believe Romney will look out for the rich over the middle class.

What the numbers make clear is that the Democratic assault on Romney -- through tens of millions in ads in swing states as well as a relentless message focus from the campaign -- is working.

Here's the best example of what Obama is trying to do -- an ad that casts Romney as part of the problem not the solution set to "America the Beautiful".

How Romney solves his "rich guy" problem -- or at least mitigates it -- isn't immediately obvious.  He is someone whose success in business (monetarily and otherwise) has come to define his life. It is impossible to tell the story of Mitt Romney without going through his years at Bain where he made massive sums of money, wealth that fueled his later political career. (Don't forget that Romney spent $44 million of his own money on a run for president in 2008.)

What Romney and the convention planners will likely do is try to place his wealth in a broader context of his life story: someone who did achieve affluence but rather than luxuriate in it went on to help save the Salt Lake City Olympics, serve as governor of Massachusetts and then pursue the presidency.

Viewed in that context, Romney will likely try to cast himself who has dedicated the second part of his life to public service for no other reason than he felt called to do so.  That sort of noble sacrifice narrative is much more sellable than the story Democrats have -- successfully -- told about Romney to date: That of a rich guy just looking for another award to pin on his lapel.

Turning that narrative in a more positive direction is the single most critical piece of the convention puzzle for Romney.  While the public's dismal view of the economy virtually ensures that he will remain in a dead heat with the President through November, Romney has to find a way to convince voters that there's more to him than just the money he has made in his life.

That work begins when the Republican National Convention formally convenes Tuesday night.

Read more from PostPolitics

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Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Scott Clement · August 27, 2012