Can Mitt Romney become more likable?
Four years ago, Manassas business coach Charles Bonuccelli voted for Mitt Romney over Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in the Republican presidential primary.
And for months, he has planned on voting for Romney again this year in November.
But in an interview late last week, he fretted that he still didn’t feel like he really knew the former Massachusetts governor.
“It’s not that I have an unfavorable impression of him. It’s that I have no impression of him,” he said. “You’re always kind of wondering, behind the facade, what are we going to get?”
The next day, he figured it out.
“This is a man who is to be taken at his word,” Bonuccelli said this week, after learning that Romney had chosen as his running mate Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), a man known for his laser focus on shrinking the government.
“The thing was that we didn’t understand who this guy [Romney] was — was he serious about these things? It was a confirmation that he is serious,” he added.
Bonuccelli was one of a number of voters interviewed over eggs and coffee at a Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast in Prince William County, a swing county in a swing state, the day before Romney chose Ryan.
Some in the crowd of striving entrepreneurs said they planned to vote for Romney in November, convinced that their companies won’t thrive until President Obama leaves office.
But they also revealed that they weren’t exactly inspired by the candidate.
In the weeks leading up to his choice of Ryan, the share of voters holding a positive opinion of Romney stalled. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week, 40 percent of voters said they viewed him positively, a figure virtually unchanged since May, when he appeared to be narrowing a persistent gap with Obama on the measure. The percentage viewing him unfavorably rose from 45 percent to 49 percent between May and August.
The Romney campaign has largely dismissed such polling results as irrelevant in a contest likely to be driven by the economy. But historically, personal appeal has been closely linked to success in presidential elections.
Choosing Ryan may have been an attempt, some analysts have said, to shift those largely static numbers in Romney’s favor. And it lets the campaign take a new run at eroding Obama’s personal popularity by trying to contrast the wonky campaign of ideas they say Ryan represents and the small-minded insult war that they charge is the president’s aim.
“What does it say about a president’s character when his campaign tries to use the tragedy of a woman’s death for political gain?” begins a new ad that the Romney team was highlighting Tuesday.
The spot refers to an ad run by an independent pro-Obama super PAC; in that ad, a man who lost his health insurance when he was laid off from a steel mill owned by Romney’s Bain Capital suggests that the Republican shares the blame for his wife’s death from cancer.
“Doesn’t America deserve better than a president who will say or do anything to stay in power?” the Romney ad says.
Last week, Mike Cunningham, 50, an account manager for a drug and alcohol testing company in Prince William, said he’d already concluded that Obama has socialist tendencies that are “absolutely destroying the economy.”
But he said he wanted to hear more from Romney, the man he would vote to put in the White House in Obama’s place.
“We’ve already lived with four years of Obama. We already know what he’s about,” Cunningham said. “Romney keeps saying he’s from the business world. So now he needs to be more specific about what he can do, as a businessman, to turn around the economy.”
Several days later, he said that picking Ryan helped.
“They’re going to have to make some tough, tough cuts,” Cunningham said. “There are some sacred cows out there, but everything needs to be on the table, and everyone will have to share in it.”
He said Medicare changes could be frightening, but “I do believe that most people will be okay with it.”
Prince William is a critical bellwether in Virginia, a state that could be important to the outcome of the presidential election. Voters in the quickly growing exurban county have backed Virginia’s winning candidate in every state and federal election of the past decade.
Whether Romney supporters in Prince William can be converted to Romney proselytizers could make a difference.
And while Ryan appears to have excited active conservatives, it’s not clear if he will be the game-changing pick Romney had sought.
Polls show that Ryan was unknown to many Americans before his selection, meaning that the image both parties craft of him in the coming weeks could be key.
Before Ryan was chosen, Jim Aram, 39, an executive at a chain of physical therapy clinics, said he planned to vote for Romney but felt largely “indifferent” toward him.
“Honestly, not much has changed,” Aram said. “We were visiting friends over the weekend, and I woke up and heard the announcement, and I said, ‘I don’t remember that guy.’ ”
“Then I saw his face and I said, ‘Wasn’t he on the cover of Men’s Health magazine?’ ”
Not quite. While Ryan is well-known as a fitness buff, it was Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) who was photographed with an open shirt on the magazine’s cover.