Mitt Romney was governor of Massachusetts just six years ago. Today he’s so unpopular here he’s barely bothering to campaign in the state. There are reasons for that—and they could spell doom for his presidential campaign.
Nor did Romney appear to connect any better with voters, despite what seemed like an auspicious start to his term: In his first six months, he crisscrossed Massachusetts, making 55 official visits to different cities and towns—from Pittsfield to Worcester to Quincy—according to his daily schedules kept in the state archives. But even as he did, his events tended to be highly orchestrated. Romney typically parachuted into town and then zipped right out. Democratic political consultant David Guarino, who covered Romney as the Herald’s former State House bureau chief, says the trips were more about attracting cameras so he could publicly push his agenda. “I didn’t at all get the sense that these were about building a sustained long-term network for governing or for reelection,” Guarino says. “It was much more about, Let’s continue to put pressure on the legislature.” Developing relationships with only the House speaker and Senate president may have been a solid strategy—the Massachusetts legislature almost always falls in lockstep behind its leaders—but a pattern was emerging: If Romney didn’t see a political advantage in building a relationship, more often than not, he wouldn’t.
Robert Dolan, the mayor of Melrose and a moderate Democrat (he’s endorsed a Republican for Congress in his district), says Romney often came to town for fundraisers and would work the hall just fine. But when it came to engaging with everyday people, he displayed little enthusiasm. “What he never did,” Dolan says, “which is what Governor Patrick did and Governors Weld and Cellucci—Governor Weld was famous for it—is walk downtown and enter nonscripted, politically unsafe environments.”
Effectively, Romney created a bubble for himself, very similar to the one he’s employed while running for president. Out on the trail, he often seems robotic when trying to relate to people, and almost never answers impromptu questions from the press. When he does go off-script, the results are often poor. Romney has a strange habit, for instance, of trying to guess people’s ages and ethnicities. And then there was the time last spring he told a woman that her cookies—purchased from a popular local bakery—looked like they came from 7-Eleven. Or when, just prior to the Olympics, he was asked in a TV interview about London’s readiness for the Games—not the kind of question he keeps a prepared answer for—and managed to offend half of Great Britain by calling the preparations “disconcerting.” Given Romney’s obvious national aspirations while governor, it’s somewhat curious that he didn’t practice off-the-cuff exchanges more often. Apparently he believed that life outside the bubble was just as perilous for him then as it’s proving to be now.