Jewish World Review May 24, 2012/ 3 Sivan, 5772
Is Mitt Romney Count Dracula?
By Roger Simon
It won't be about whether Barack Obama will protect the middle class against Mitt Romney's predatory capitalism. And it won't be about whether Mitt Romney will create jobs by eradicating Obama's "European socialism."
It will be about who you like. (Or even whom.)
Naive. Simplistic. Adolescent. Who people "want to a have a beer with" is an insult to the intelligence of the American voter.
These are the common criticisms of my view. Instead of likability, demographics rule political analysis today. Are you a Latino? A single mother? A gun owner? Gay? A college graduate? A suburbanite? A truck driver? That will determine your vote.
(Though if you are a Latino single mother with a college degree who is a gay truck driver living in the suburbs with your gun, things get a little complicated.)
Campaigning, in other words, does not fundamentally change elections because campaigning does not change the demographics of the electorate.
Me, I do not buy this. I do not believe that demographics are destiny. I believe campaigns are about campaigning and the campaigners. And the campaigners have to get you to like them.
Let's look just at two campaigns in which an incumbent president was running for re-election.
Way back in 1984, President Ronald Reagan was not a shoo-in against Walter Mondale. At 73, Reagan was the oldest president in U.S. history, and on Oct. 7 in a debate in Louisville, he stumbled through a disastrous debate, at one point admitting he was "confused." Nancy Reagan later would call it "the worst night of Ronnie's political career."
Just one more debate would follow 14 days later in Kansas City, Mo., and Reagan's media guru, Roger Ailes, told Reagan to forget about all the facts and figures that his staff was trying to stuff into his head. "You didn't get elected on details," Ailes told him.
And in the second debate, Reagan was warm, affable and got off the line of the evening. "I will not make age an issue of this campaign," Reagan said. "I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."
Mondale laughed along with the audience, but he later said tears of defeat had welled in his eyes. "In the second debate, he was on his game," Mondale said. "He reassured the public, and that was essentially the end of the campaign."
In 2004, George W. Bush ran for re-election against John Kerry. In the weeks before Election Day, there was a drumbeat of bad news for the incumbent: a rising death toll in Iraq, reminders of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, a shortage of flu vaccine, high gasoline prices and three badly reviewed debate performances. True, the Bush forces had "Swift Boated" Kerry, but the attacks, which were baseless, would not have damaged Kerry so much if people had simply liked Kerry more as a person, trusted and respected him.
Bush connected with voters on an emotional level. Even though the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks had taken place on his watch, Bush persuaded voters he would keep them safer than Kerry would. And Bush squeaked out a 2.4 percentage point victory.
In his concession speech the next day, Kerry told the crowd, "I wish that I could just wrap you up in my arms and embrace each and every one of you."
His voice broke. And I wondered if he had showed that kind of emotion during the campaign instead of being photographed windsurfing in that stupid wetsuit, might he not have been the president-elect that day.
Bush's chief strategist, Matthew Dowd, called it the "living room" test. Ken Duberstein, Reagan's former chief of staff, called it the "bedroom test."
It wasn't about whom you wanted to have a beer with. (Let's face it, folks, few of us are going to have a beer with the president.) It's about whom you can stand to watch on TV — from your living room or your bedroom — for the next four years.
In 2000, Al Gore's lack of public affability became such an issue that his staff printed buttons, one of which Gore occasionally wore under his lapel. "I'm Al Gore and I don't like you either," the button said.
Just look at the results of every presidential race since 1980: Ronald Reagan beats Jimmy Carter and then Walter Mondale. George H.W. Bush beats Michael Dukakis. Bill Clinton beats George H.W. Bush and then Bob Dole. George W. Bush beats Al Gore and then John Kerry. Barack Obama beats John McCain.
In every one of these elections, I would argue, the more likable candidate has won. (I would add one asterisk: Gore did win the popular vote by more than 500,000 voters in 2000.)
Likability is an entrance gate. It opens people up to your message and, yes, to your issues. If they don't like you, they are not going to listen to you or believe you.
Today, Romney's campaign is worried about its candidate's likability, and it is trying to "warm" him up.
Others think it does not matter. Phil Musser, a senior adviser in Romney's presidential campaign in 2007, recently told Dan Hirschhorn of The Daily: "As long as you're not Count Dracula, in an economy that's still mired in a weak recovery from an awful recession, people are looking for someone who can cut through the fog, not someone who's going to make them warm and fuzzy. Likeability is important insofar as people don't despise your candidate."
History would disagree. I would disagree. And if I were the Romney campaign, I would keep my candidate off of surfboards, away from wet suits and out of blood banks.
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