THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Joan Vennochi

Money can't buy Mitt the common touch

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Joan Vennochi
Globe Columnist / February 7, 2008

AS MITT ROMNEY proves, ego is the one sure thing to come between a man and his money.

Romney loaned his campaign more than $35 million in 2007 and has less than 300 delegates to show for it. But like Celine Dion's heart, Romney's White House quest could go on and on - or so he threatened after disappointing results on Super Tuesday.

According to The New York Times, Romney is thinking about wooing delegates who are pledged to other candidates but "who are not technically bound to them." Coupons to Staples, the office supply chain he financed during his venture capital days, could already be in their mailboxes.

Romney won every state he lived in - Michigan, Utah, and Massachusetts. In the Bay State, he defied the local media and former governors Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift to win the primary. He has enough capital, but, unfortunately, not enough time, to set up residence in those states yet to vote. So, he can't count on any more home-court advantage.

Romney will have a hard time counting himself out. Each time he was declared dead, Fox News and the right-wing talk-show crowd stood ready with a defibrillator for Romney and another shiv in the back for rival John McCain. With their help, Romney clawed back from his political grave, with nary a hair out of place.

Rush Limbaugh did his best to ignore it, but Romney is the candidate who ran left in Massachusetts before he ran right for the Republican nomination. This makes the Republican presidential contest look like a distorted image in a funhouse mirror.

"The race has turned into a weird upside-down counter reality," wrote conservative David Frum in his National Review blog. "The "conservative" is losing to the "moderate" - except the so-called "conservative" (Romney) is really a moderate at heart (notice his election-night praise for George H.W. Bush), while the so-called moderate has one of the most conservative voting records in the Senate."

Lack of conviction is a problem for Romney. His U-turns on major matters, from supporting Roe v. Wade to supporting Ronald Reagan, are well-documented. But McCain changes positions, too. He renounced his own immigration reform bill during the last GOP debate in California and has done the same with other proposals he once sponsored in Congress.

Now, Romney's biggest problem isn't flip-flopping. It's authenticity, which is McCain's strength. The real Mitt Romney is breaking through and the brand isn't winning votes, just talk-show hosts.

Endless mentions of Reagan's name can't give him Reagan's common touch, or Mike Huckabee's.

Romney's a smart man whose second language is money. He clearly understands economic theory better than his rivals. But unless he's in Michigan, desperate to nail the auto worker vote, he doesn't convey empathy about economic reality. A venture capitalist understands that downsizing is necessary to save a company. But a presidential candidate also understands that laid-off workers are worried about saving their homes and knows how to respond naturally to that fear.

McCain sometimes sounds cranky. But Romney often sounds petty. After former US senator Bob Dole wrote a letter to Limbaugh asking the radio host to de-escalate his war of words against McCain, Romney said, "It's probably the last person I would have wanted write a letter for me." He also complained about Huckabee's West Virginia caucus win, leaving Huckabee the perfect opening to note, "Well, yesterday, he was chiding me. He said not to whine. Today, he's changed his position on whining, and today he's for whining. So once again, Mitt has been able to take both sides of all issues, including whining."

It isn't easy for anyone to walk away from a dream. To some degree, Mitt Romney's ambition is also a desire to fulfill that of his father, George Romney, who also tried unsuccessfully to capture his party's nomination.

Some of Romney's best moments on the campaign trail came when he spoke of his parents. Unfortunately, so did one of his worst moments - when he said he "saw" his father march with Martin Luther King Jr. After the Boston Phoenix disproved that assertion, Romney tried to parse the meaning of "saw."

Money buys advertising, but it can't buy the political instinct to take setbacks graciously. And it can't buy the humility to know when it's time to quit.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is vennochi@globe.com.

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