Helped by Obama’s advertising effort, Romney’s 47 percent comments have had a shelf life beyond the damaging remarks he made earlier in the campaign, such as how he likes “being able to fire people who provide services to me,” or that he knows what it’s like to worry about getting a “pink slip,” or the $10,000 bet he once wagered during a debate.
This is in part because his remarks in the fundraiser video could not be dismissed as a gaffe. Longtime Democratic strategist Robert Shrum said many voters who recognize how awkward Romney can be at his rallies may have seen how fluent and comfortable he was at that fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla., and concluded, “Wow, that really is the real Romney.”
“We could have a big debate about deficit reduction, and it doesn’t reach most people except for the headline. This is the kind of thing where the morning after, the week after, people get a cup of coffee, and they mention it to each other. It catches the popular imagination. And if Romney loses, it will become a benchmark and a hallmark of the campaign,” said Shrum, a top strategist on Al Gore’s and John Kerry’s presidential bids.
Romney’s brain trust understands this. Publicly, his advisers have said that the comments help crystallize a contrast in the two candidates’ governing philosophies: between what Romney sees as a society based on government dependence and one based on free enterprise.
Campaigning last week in Ohio, Romney repeatedly said that he was running to help all Americans — language that advisers said he is likely to reprise in the debate. “I think the president cares about the people of America; I care about all the people in America,” Romney said. “But I know how to help the people of America and make sure our future’s bright and prosperous for our kids and protect liberty, and he does not. I know what it takes.”
Privately, another Romney adviser said that there is “no question it’s had an impact.”
“I don’t think there’s any question it’s cut, and it’s best left alone. Trying to explain it is not helpful. The issue is how long does it hurt, and there is some minuscule but nonetheless hopeful sense that some is beginning to ebb,” said the adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment.
The adviser added, optimistically, that voters could give Romney the benefit of the doubt in the debate. “That’s the only time he has to adequately explain it, and people might actually pay attention to his answer,” the adviser said.