But attracting support from the GOP establishment has never been Romney’s biggest challenge. To become his party’s nominee, he must do something he has never been able to do before: win over a broad swath of primary voters, many of whom suspect he is not as conservative as they are.
With a slew of would-be challengers taking a pass and his main rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, slipping in the polls, Romney will face a critical three-month stretch before the first votes are cast in Iowa. In that time, he must convince his party that he isn’t merely a satisfactory choice that they will simply have to stomach, but instead that he is a candidate they should be excited about.
On the stump, Romney has started talking more about his family as a way to personalize himself. He plans to roll out more policy specifics to help burnish his conservative credentials. He also is striving to convince voters that his executive experience in the private sector and his 59-point jobs plan make him the Republican most able to turn around the nation’s economy.
“As much as possible, we’re going to talk not about how Mitt Romney will win, but why he should win,” said Stuart Stevens, Romney’s chief strategist. “We’re going to talk about jobs and houses and immigration and foreign policy and America’s role in the world and big stuff.”
At the same time, his campaign is trying to build an aura of inevitability by gathering as many elected officials, major financiers and prominent party activists as it can around his candidacy.
On Wednesday, the campaign announced the endorsement of freshman Rep. Tim Griffin, who will serve as Romney’s Arkansas chairman. Also Wednesday, Romney met with Florida Gov. Rick Scott in Tallahassee to ask for his support. And he held an evening reception to enlist uncommitted state legislators.
But in the current climate, any Republican — especially Romney — is in danger of being tagged as the candidate anointed by party leaders. Among grass-roots conservatives, there is a strong distaste for the establishment. Thus, Romney’s advisers will have to manage that support in a way that doesn’t leave primary voters feeling as though their choice is being dictated by party leaders.
Although Romney’s national poll numbers have essentially remained the same all year, there are signs that he is connecting with voters where he has spent most of his time and where it matters most. He has amassed markedly stronger leads in some of the early-voting states, such as New Hampshire.