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Romney's Number-Crunching Values Pessimism

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Right after the second debate, Mitt Romney has finally decided to run an abortion ad:

"Those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme, so I looked into it," a female former Obama voter says. "Turns out, Romney doesn't oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life."


Mitt Romney. He's our guy. He's much better than Obama, and I think he will win this race. But could he try any harder to prove he's no Ronald Reagan?

Abortion and gay marriage should be helping put Romney in the White House. Instead, in his consultant-tested messaging, Romney is conveying discomfort with his own position, and in that process, he risks communicating to values voters that he cannot be counted on.

But the missed opportunity to capitalize on voters' discomfort with Obama's extreme positions is the bigger problem. Voters have a hard time believing Obama is extreme because his demeanor is so low-key -- but all the more reason to communicate the truth to them, as the SBA List is trying to do with its amazingly effective new ads featuring an abortion survivor.

Think about it this way: The election comes down to four swing states -- Ohio, Virginia, Iowa and Nevada. To win, Romney needs to win three of these four states (because Ohio is down to 18 electoral college votes).

An alternative strategy is to expand the swing state list into unconventional territory: Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Look at that map and figure out if this is the way to use social issues to win an election.

At the second debate, Romney fought Obama to a draw, with an avalanche of numbers and a surprisingly ineffectual performance.

It's harder to debate when your opponent shows up, of course, but under the stress of Attack Obama, Gov. Romney reverted to his core comfort zone: the numbers, not the stories. But the president's aggressiveness is not the whole story.


Romney flubbed Libya, I suspect in part because too much of his brain was occupied by his presumed need to dodge and hide on Planned Parenthood, contraception and immigration. Remembering your massaged story takes up more brain space. Reagan, by contrast, could revert with confidence to his core values.

What did voters hate the most about the performance of both men in the second debate? The lows on the focus group dials came when either candidate failed to answer the question and instead did a practiced, consultant-urged "pivot" to display yet another campaign talking point.

President Obama's lowest moment was when he tried to pivot from a real question talking about paying for more teachers and education to "grow jobs." Romney missed the obvious rejoinder: "Mr. President, education is very important, but as Jeremy asked you, the bigger problem we have is that 50 percent of new college graduates don't have jobs. They've done their part, where is the growing economy they need and the country needs, Mr. President?"

Voters hated it similarly when Romney pivoted from a question to insert his response to Obama's attack ads on his pension fund's investments in China.

Voters hate the feeling that they are being "played" by politicians. They hate, in particular, the feeling that it's so hard to figure out what's really true -- when so much is at stake.


Romney's fumbles and missed opportunities have the same root as the preposterous abortion ad he is now running -- traditional Northeastern Republican issues-pessimism about the core of the Republican Party's values. He has to massage their message, not run on it.

In all the swing states, Obama's abortion extremism should be a negative. But with Romney and the Romney Super PACs steadfastly committed to ignoring the social issues, Obama is free to press and define his attack, and Romney is left in a defensive crouch on issues that should be helping him swing those states.

The worst part is, if he ekes out a victory (as I think he will), the GOP elites will get exactly the wrong message about the path to victory.

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