The Romney team knew it was a good night, a very good night. A number of senior advisers with whom I chatted last night seemed more relieved than triumphant. The sense was palpable that the likability monkey was off their back. Or to paraphrase New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, they think they’ve taken a big step toward earning the respect, if not the love, of the voters.
Romney’s senior advisers believe the negative barrage will continue, but they have gone a significant way in defanging the Bain attacks. By embracing Bain more fully and offering details to explain Romney’s sense of pride in his business accomplishments, they are cautiously optimistic that Bain now conjures up more positive associations (leadership, persistence, attention to detail, trust) than negative ones (“vulture” capitalism).
Senior advisers think their summer gamble paid off. They let the negative ads rain down on them for months. Now they hope the stories of Romney’s fellow Mormons and his Bain colleagues and businesses will make President Obama’s attacks look silly and small.
Nothing in the convention alters the consensus within the Romney camp that the race will go down to the wire. But as one Romney adviser put it, “We’ve got a real shot at this!”
Perhaps as interesting were the tone and reaction of the media. They are in person as cynical and snarky as they often appear on air and in print. But over the week you could see grudging admiration for the professionalism and improvement in a campaign operation that has sometimes seemed amateurish.
As for the Obama camp, I suspect there were some worried glances and furrowed brows last night. Do they continue to hammer at Bain, or is that, at this point, a gambit of diminishing returns? Do they try to defend the president’s record and argue that things really are getting better? They probably will be more adept than their surrogates in the punditocracy who think shouting “Liar!” and “Extreme!” is sufficient. (You wonder if they can scrounge up someone Obama visited in the hospital or to whom Obama brought Thanksgiving dinner. Probably not.)
You get the sense that the Obama team must have known that at some point Romney would break through the media filter and convey his innate decency to voters. Campaign officials had convinced themselves that they could so bloody him in the summer as to make him an unreliable spokesman for his own cause. But they couldn’t and wouldn’t dare discredit the church members who raved about Romney’s ethic of giving and service. They will now be confronted with a variety of ads featuring these testimonials. (A Romney senior adviser deadpanned, “You’ll see some of them again.”) For all the money and effort, the Obama campaign is farther away at the end of the summer than it was at the beginning in demonizing Romney.
The Romney team, to a greater degree than most campaigns, has been criticized and lampooned. Too timid. Too unfocused. Too slow. Too inept. But this week demonstrated that the campaign officials are more skilled than they have been depicted, and their errors and stumbles have in large part been obliterated in the lingering glow of the convention. There is some personal vindication for them as well.