Mitt Romney is still waiting for his gold medal from the American public.
If you look across Romney’s public and private sector record, his time as head of the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City stands out as what should be his greatest and most politically advantageous achievement.
Unlike his tenure at Bain Capital and as governor of Massachusetts, there’s very little Democrats can say that will undermine or pick apart Romney’s Olympics record. It’s also a high profile example of Romney’s business acumen that actually has a real-world connection to most peoples’s lives.
And, as luck would have it, the Summer Olympics in London is being held just a few months before the U.S. presidential election — a terrific opportunity for Romney to take a victory lap, right?
The Olympics been something of an afterthought for the Romney campaign so far, and the games may actually be working against him to at point, thanks in large part to his suggestion last week that London wasn’t ready for the crush of crowds and security challenges they pose.
If Romney’s trip to London was supposed to highlight his own stewardship of the (Winter) Olympic Games, it appears to have failed. And apart from that, we haven’t seen much messaging on the issue from his supporters.
That changes today, though, with the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future launching a $7.2 million ad campaign featuring former Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi singing Romney’s praises.
“Mitt Romney brought a huge sense of hope,” Yamaguchi says in an ad featuring other Olympians and talking about the Salt Lake City turnaround.
But to this point, the Olympics portion of Romney’s record seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.
In 2008, Olympian Dan Jansen was Romney’s big name on stage in Iowa (his Chuck Norris , if you will) as the state voted in its all-important caucuses. This time, the Olympics seem to be more of a bullet point on his resume than a silver bullet to victory.
Part of that is the passage of time. The 2008 election was six years after Salt Lake; it’s now been a full decade. But part of it is also emphasis.
Democrats have even gotten some traction in undercutting what put Romney on the political map. Romney’s suggestion that London might not be ready for the games is now part of a narrative that says his foreign trip has been a gaffe-filled mess; and the pro-Obama super PAC Priorities USA Action even had some fun, releasing a web ad linking the countries of the opening ceremonies to Romney’s overseas bank accounts and pointing out that the 2002 U.S. Olympic uniforms were manufactured in Burma.
The ad was eventually pulled when Olympics officials ruled that the campaigns couldn’t use their footage in the campaign. (And really, that’s probably another victory for Democrats, who have far less use for triumphant footage of the 2002 Games than does Romney.)
“On something that people thought would be an unimpeachable positive for him, he didn’t take any time at all to tell his side of it,” said Priorities USA founder Bill Burton. “The fact is that his connection with this Olympics is his horse on the horse ballet competition.”
Polling right now shows the Olympics is not yet a major reason that people are supporting Romney. A Bloomberg poll in June showed just 8 percent of people said it was his most important qualification — far less than those who said the same about his time as governor (41 percent) or at Bain Capital (34 percent).
None of this is to say that the Olympics story isn’t an asset for Romney or that it won’t wind up being a big part of his campaign. That remains to be seen.
But what had been the candidate’s major calling card in the 2008 campaign and a significant part of his resume for his 2012 run has been neutralized to some degree.