The campaign had hoped Romney’s appearance there would reprise one of the most glorious chapters of his biography, his role in rescuing the scandal-ridden 2002 Winter Olympic Games, in Salt Lake City.
Instead, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee played the party pooper, raising doubts about security at the London Olympics, which drew public rebukes from Prime Minister David Cameron and London Mayor Boris Johnson.
While Obama’s visit to the city as a candidate four years ago had throngs of Londoners chanting “Yes, we can,” Romney’s got a screaming headline Friday in the tabloid Sun: “Mitt the Twit.”
GOP strategists within and outside the Romney campaign insist that the former Massachusetts governor still has plenty of time to acquaint the American people with his softer side, and that, given all the problems the country faces, personality will not be the deciding factor this election year.
Those assumptions show in Romney’s advertising. The standard playbook for challengers is to launch their campaigns with a round of biographical ads. Romney’s first spots after securing the nomination focused on what he would do on “Day One” of his presidency.
“Personal qualities are taking a back seat,” Newhouse said. “What voters are asking us is, ‘What’s he going to do? How is he going to be different? How is he going to lead us out of this mess?’ ”
Sounding a bit like a sympathetic psychotherapist, a recent Republican National Committee ad acknowledged Americans’ affection for Obama and offered them permission to move on.
“He tried. You tried,” the announcer said. “It’s okay to make a change.”
Meanwhile, the Obama campaign has tried to take advantage of a void that Romney has created by his failure thus far to fill in the picture of himself.
It has pounded him with ads that depict him as heartless, privileged and secretive. In an exercise of jujitsu, Obama’s attacks focus on the very aspect of Romney’s résumé that he has highlighted as his greatest strength: his business career.
“Who has owned the Mitt Romney biography? It’s been the Obama campaign that has defined Mitt Romney,” said Steve Schmidt, a veteran Republican strategist who helped run GOP nominee John McCain’s campaign in 2008. “A lot of criticism people make is that Mitt Romney hasn’t revealed a lot of himself in terms of who he is.”
That will change, Newhouse vowed, noting that the Republican convention, at the end of August, offers a “tremendous opportunity.”
“We’ve only scratched the surface in telling the Mitt story so far,” the pollster said. “We are not going to miss the opportunity to do that.”
Romney is starting to make an effort, as well, although his narrative is still a work in progress.
“I’m very proud of my heritage. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’m proud of that. Some call that the Mormon Church. That’s fine with me. I’ll talk about my experiences in the church. There’s no question they’ve shaped helped shape my perspective,” he said in his NBC interview. “I have, like my wife, we try and give about 10 percent of our time, not just 10 percent of our money, but also of our time, to service in the community. Those things have enriched our life, have given us perspectives that go beyond the group of friends we might have otherwise had.”
As uncomfortable as it may make him, the public will ask — indeed, demand — that Romney show more and more of that side of his life.
“There’s much to admire about Mitt Romney, and part of the process of running for president is it requires you to open a window into your soul. The American people want to see the president three-dimensionally,” said Schmidt. “The decision about whether you’re going to talk about those things is made in the decision to run for president.”
Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.