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.
I want to meet some local Romney supporters, so I call up the Massachusetts Republican Party and ask if Romney has any campaign activities scheduled for the state. I’m not expecting any door-to-door canvassing, but maybe there’ll be some phone-banking. There is not, they report, though I’m told that some local Romney supporters are known to go up to New Hampshire, a genuine swing state, and volunteer there.
So one morning in August, I drive north to the Romney “Victory Office” in Nashua, wedged into the middle of a strip of offices and restaurants. It’s a single room, outfitted with folding tables and chairs and political signs plastered on the walls. I get to chatting with four women who’ve come up from Massachusetts to volunteer. One works as a child-protection advocate, and says she’s there because she appreciated Romney’s efforts on the issue as governor. Two others say they think Romney is the man to get the economy back on track. The fourth woman won’t stop talking about how Obama is going to turn America into a third-world country. She also declares his universal healthcare law racist on these grounds: “They’re going to tax tanning booths. Do black people tan?” They put her to work making calls.
The divisive politics of tanning aside, it’s worth repeating that I had to come to New Hampshire to find these people. Romney made such a mess of things in Massachusetts that he’s not even trying to campaign in the state where he was chief executive just six years ago. Actually, it’s fitting that he isn’t sending volunteers fanning out across Massachusetts, since, as governor, he lost interest in traveling around the state as well. According to his daily schedules, Romney’s number of official visits to cities and towns steadily declined over his first two years in office, dropping from 55 the first six months of 2003 to 40 in the six months after that, and from 38 to 28 in the first and second halves of 2004. By contrast, according to numbers provided by his office, Governor Patrick made more than 400 trips to cities and towns outside Boston in his first two years in office, more than twice as many as Romney. Perhaps the two administrations tallied their events differently, but there’s little doubt that Patrick has been far more active in engaging communities across the state.
After those first two years, Romney basically checked out of Massachusetts. He planned 78 town visits in 2005, and just 25 in the first 10 months of 2006 (the final two months of his 2006 schedules were missing from the records in the state archives). That year he spent all or part of 219 days outside the state, building his national profile.