One prominent adviser told the candidate to sharpen his use of conservative code words and create “small pictures” — vivid imagery, in other words — to connect with voters. Another flew to Boston to say that Romney’s message is too businesslike and broad to capture the passion of angry Republican voters. Still others have gone on television and written opinion columns to hammer home what is becoming a common theme this year: that Romney has not been able to ignite a cause when the GOP is primed to become part of one.
After Romney’s three wins, five losses and his solid lead in delegates, most Republicans said they still think he will win the nomination.
But they see a candidate who lacks broad support among conservatives, and whose recent defeats reveal that his organization is not quite as unstoppable as many supporters had thought.
What appeared to be a sure win may become one of Romney’s toughest tests. The Feb. 28 primary in Michigan — his home state and the place where his father served as governor — is shaping up to be a much more difficult race for him. Despite his extensive network and widespread name recognition, Romney must contend with a new surge of popularity for Santorum, a former senator whose modest background in western Pennsylvania may resonate with Michigan’s embattled autoworkers. In a strike from the other direction, Democrats in Michigan are criticizing Romney over his opposition to the federal bailout of the auto industry.
“It’s a bit of a wake-up call for Governor Romney,” said one of the candidate’s advisers, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be candid. “He’s obviously got to sharpen the message and clarify the vision — particularly for activists who are more likely to participate in these contests.”
After Tuesday, Romney’s team appears to be listening. There is agreement, one adviser said, that the candidate must liven up his road show, injecting energy into a stale stump and resuming the kind of town-hall events that let him interact with voters. He will hold his first such event since Jan. 13 on Friday in Portland, Maine. The state’s caucuses will end Saturday.
Romney is not expected to move too far to the right to accommodate the party base, the adviser said, adding, “You can’t make him who he’s not.” All of the Romney advisers interviewed declined to speak for attribution, saying they are not authorized to do so.
The changes under discussion appear relatively modest and may not alter the dynamics of the race. Romney intends to continue his heavy focus on the economy — an area that is considered Obama’s greatest vulnerability — and to try to demonstrate his command of facts and policy on issues such as Social Security, Israel, housing and the environment, one adviser said. His supporters have called for a deeper evaluation of his message, saying he lacks the kind of inspirational rallying cry that could begin to shut down his rivals.