The story Mitt Romney hoped to avoid — and how his campaign can get beyond it

September 17, 2012

For the better part of the last 18 months, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has taken lots (and lots) of criticism. He's too wooden. He's not conservative enough. He's not quick on his feet. He should be winning (but isn't).


Through it all, the Romney campaign's inner circle stayed tight, refusing to engage in the sort of backbiting and butt-covering by paid political professionals that plagued his 2008 bid for president and is the hallmark of virtually every losing campaign -- Democratic or Republican -- in history.

That unity of purpose -- no leaks, no drama, just winning -- was expressly modeled after the structure put in place by then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama during the 2008 campaign. Obama's political success, many senior advisers to Romney believed, was due in no small part to the fact that his campaign refused to play the inside-Washington, this-one-doesn't-like-that-one game.

On Sunday that plan ended, as the Romney campaign came face-to-face with just the story it was hoping to avoid: a report in Politico of dissension within the campaign ranks -- much of it directed at media consultant and Romney political svengali Stuart Stevens.

The Romney campaign offered no immediate comment on the story -- perhaps believing that saying anything would add fuel to a fire it was much more interested in letting die. Others not authorized to speak on the record insisted that the story accurately portrayed the griping of a handful of people outside of what remains a close-knit political inner circle.

"Rest assured: we really don't have infighting in our inner circle and with Mitt," said one senior Romney aide. "This is just outer-ring stuff."

Regardless, the story is sure to draw scads of media attention, as campaign infighting narratives are something close to catnip for cable television (and political blogs). And, a focus on whether there is something deeply wrong with the Romney campaign and how it functions is not the sort of message his side wants/needs to be pushing with 50 days left until Election Day.

"Public backstabbing with two months to go is shameful," said Curt Anderson, a Republican media consultant who worked on Romney's 2008 campaign but is not involved this time. "I checked my calendar to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep and awaken a month later. Usually this kind of stuff comes out in late October."

Anderson, as well as several other unaligned Republican strategists The Fix spoke with late Sunday, insisted however that no matter the negative publicity that the Politico story will generate among the political chattering class, that it would likely do little to alter the overall dynamic of the race.

"This race is close," said Anderson. "Obama may have a slight edge, but it is slight. The press and the insiders have prematurely decided this election, [but] the voters are not on board with that analysis at this point, and they get to decide."

Alex Castellanos, another consultant who advised Romney in 2008 but is not doing so in 2012, offered a simple solution to move beyond the story.

"It's easy, the same as football," said Castellanos, "Put on your pads and hit somebody."

NRSC starts spending in Indiana: The Senate map is getting bigger, after Republicans this weekend spent their first money defending Sen. Richard Lugar's (R-Ind.) seat in Indiana.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee is spending $650,000 on a one-week ad buy.

Democrats have new hope in the race now that Lugar lost his primary; a series of Demcoratic polls -- and a Chamber of Commerce poll -- have shown the race neck and neck.

Rep. Joe Donnelly's (D-Ind.) campaign will release another poll Monday showing him leading state Treasurer Richard Mourdock 45 percent to 42 percent. The Global Strategy Group poll is Donnelly's best showing in any poll to date.

Indiana is the second state where the national committees have been forced to plug money into a seat they had hoped would be safe. Democrats last week spent their first money defending an open seat in blue Connecticut.

Fixbits:

Romney is out with a new TV ad pitching his economic plan to the middle class, while another compares falling median household incomes to the rise in the national debt.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) has asked a court to end the city's teachers strike, as the teachers have declined to sign off on a tentative deal that would put them back to work.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas says "We The People" wasn't written with African-Americans in mind.

Former president Bill Clinton will make an appearance in Haiti today, delivering remarks at the Center for Investment Facilitation in Port-au-Prince.

new poll from the Western New England University Polling Institute shows Elizabeth Warren (D) leading Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) by six points -- a far better picture for Democrats than any other recent poll. Other polls of late had shown the race tilting toward Brown.

Christine O'Donnell (R) says she is considering another Senate campaign in Delaware in 2014. She would be going for a rematch with Sen. Chris Coons (D), who beat her by 17 points in a 2010 special election.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is up with the first ad of his 2012 campaign.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says Democrats have an "excellent" chance to win back the majority this year.

Must-reads:

"Inside the campaign: How Mitt Romney stumbled" -- Mike Allen and Jim Vandehei, Politico

"Romney at risk of losing edge on deficit" -- Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post

"Companies Thompson helps oversee have run into trouble" -- Cary Spivak, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"Pa.’s new voter ID law sends non-drivers on a bureaucratic journey" -- Ann Gerhart, Washington Post

"The B61 bomb: A case study in costs and needs" -- Dana Priest, Washington Post

"Do presidential debates really matter?" -- John Sides, Washington Monthly

"Will Obama win in November? Wide gap between preference and prediction." -- Chris Cillizza, Washington Post

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Sean Sullivan · September 16, 2012