Nine hundred of Mitt Romney’s biggest benefactors — from Wall Street traders to hedge fund managers — gathered in a ballroom in Midtown Manhattan on Friday morning to send their candidate on the two-month sprint to Election Day.
But the donors, being data guys, knew that Romney’s momentum had stalled. And when they looked up at the Jumbotron to watch a biographical video showing the GOP nominee as warm-hearted, frugal and even a bit goofy, it was the culmination of much of what Republicans say is wrong with the Romney campaign: There is a great story to be told, and it isn’t being shared with the country.
Now, with 49 days left until the election, Romney’s chief strategist, Stuart Stevens, is being accused of not defining the candidate quickly enough over the summer and not helping the sometimes awkward nominee forge a closer bond with voters. Republicans are increasingly frustrated with the campaign’s inability to capitalize on Americans’ anxiety about the economy and their lukewarm approval of President Obama.
Romney faced another distraction Monday, as Mother Jones magazine unearthed a video that it said showed the candidate speaking at a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. In the video, Romney says that 47 percent of Americans are “dependent on government” and that they think “they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it.”
Romney adds that his job “is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
On Monday night, just before a fundraiser in Costa Mesa where donors gave up to $50,000 per person, Romney hastily called a news conference to address the controversy. He stood by his remarks, although he conceded that they were “not elegantly stated” and that he had been “speaking off the cuff in response to a question.”
Romney said his comments underscored the contrast between Obama’s “government-centered society” and his own “free-people, free-enterprise, free-market, consumer-driven approach.”
Earlier Monday, advisers, donors and other top Romney supporters depicted a campaign in turmoil, saying that a series of strategic errors have set back the effort.
They pointed to the decision not to aggressively combat the slew of television ads that the Obama campaign aired over the summer characterizing Romney as a ruthless technocrat who shipped jobs overseas during his time at Bain Capital and who has mysterious foreign investments. They also said the candidate’s overseas trip in July, which some top advisers urged him not to take, turned into such a mess that it jeopardized his credentials.
Furthermore, supporters said the Republican National Convention was a missed opportunity because Romney did not lay out a clear policy-driven vision and because the lauded biographical video was scrapped from prime time in favor of Clint Eastwood’s performance, which featured an empty chair.
Despite the griping, Romney aides insisted that no shake-up was in the works. Stevens declined to comment on the record. Advisers and fundraisers close to the operation said it is highly unlikely that Romney will replace him. “He’s not changing horses,” one said.
Publicly, Romney is trying to look past the reports of infighting. In an interview with Telemundo, he stood by Stevens and his other advisers. “I’ve got a terrific campaign,” he said. “My senior campaign people work extraordinarily well together. I work well with them. Our campaign is doing well.” Asked if there would be changes in his team, Romney said, “No, I’ve got a good team.”