As the Republican Convention program in Tampa kicks off, GOP operatives and activists are divided on the most important task for their quadrennial confab—repairing Mitt Romney’s personal image, or promoting the GOP nominee’s policy proposals. Democrats are in greater agreement: They think the Republicans in Tampa need to work on Romney image repair. Those are the findings of National Journal’s Convention Insiders Poll, an anonymous survey on Monday of Democratic and Republican party and elected officials, grassroots activists, consultants, fundraisers, lobbyists, and allied interest-group leaders.
When asked what was “the most important task for the Republican Convention,” just more than half (54 percent) of the GOP Convention Insiders said that it was to “lay out the Romney agenda for the next four years.” At the same time, 43 percent of the 175 Republicans who responded to the survey said that the top task for their convention was to “burnish Romney's personal image.” Only 3 percent of the GOP Convention Insiders said that the more important task for the party gathering in Tampa was to “attack the Obama administration and Democrats.”
“As much as Romney’s lack of ‘likability’ is talked about, presenting a clear vision and agenda for the future will move swing voters from Obama to Romney,” said one Republican Convention Insider. Echoed another, “The only advantage Romney can have is an economic agenda that uses his business background to give it credibility.” Added another GOP Convention Insider, “Attacks will be best served through paid media: Voters already know they don’t want to reelect the president; now they need a reason to vote for Romney.”
Still, many Republicans believe that a priority should be placed on repairing Romney’s image, which has been tarnished by a barrage of searing Obama campaign and Democratic super PAC TV and Web ads that have portrayed the GOP standard-bearer as a cutthroat corporate buccaneer.
“Romney still needs to be humanized,” one GOP Insider maintained. “Voters want to ‘like’ their president—still a work in progress for Mitt.” Another GOP Convention Insider concurred: “Romney has very low likability; this is his opportunity to redefine himself.” Looking to one of Tuesday night’s marquee speakers, Ann Romney, the Republican continued: “Mrs. Romney will be the key; I look for her to be the bridge to a new Gov. Romney.”
Perhaps proud of their own handiwork, two-thirds (66 percent) of the 134 Democratic Convention Insiders who responded to this survey thought that the GOP Convention’s most important task was to burnish Romney’s personal image. Only 27 percent said Romney greatest need was to have his agenda promoted and just 7 percent said Republicans in Tampa should focus on attacking the president and Democrats.
“The missing link so far is the ability of Romney to show empathy and that he’s about more than the art of the deal,” asserted one Democratic Convention Insider. “He can’t win if people don’t like him,” said another Democrat. “Just ask John Kerry.”
See a list of the Insiders here.