Stuart Stevens, Mitt Romney’s top campaign strategist, talks about the race against President Obama. Edited excerpts of his interview with National Journal follow.
NJ You’ve expressed some frustration with media coverage of the campaign. Do you think it’s been unfair?
Stevens You have this remarkable divergence, at least until recently, of where voters are and where a lot of the coverage has been. If you went and Googled for the last four or five or six months for articles about how much trouble Barack Obama is in and how likely he is to lose, you wouldn’t find much. I think there is an underappreciation of the economic trauma that is still across the country. That’s why you see those incredible statistics that so many people still think we’re in a recession, even though, technically, the recession ended months ago.
NJ What is your Plan B if the economy continues to improve?
Stevens I think the question will come down to, Do people feel that the country is headed in the right direction? What about their lives has gotten better? The fundamental question is, Do you think the solutions presented by this president have worked and will they work, or is there a better alternative? We’re confident that Governor Romney is presenting a more positive alternative that is much more forward-looking.
NJ Forward? Isn’t that the Obama campaign’s slogan?
Stevens The reason they picked “forward” is because people don’t think they’re going forward. They feel like we’re going sideways or backwards.
NJ To close a gap with Hispanic voters, does Romney need to embrace the proposal of Senator Marco Rubio of Florida that would allow the children of undocumented immigrants to attain legal status if they go to college?
Stevens I’m not going to speak to any specific legislation. The economic crisis has hit Hispanics disproportionately hard, and as the campaign goes forward, we will speak to that and speak to it with some more specificity. This dividing of people into these different categories—there’s a lot more that unites American voters these days than divides them. I really think it’s a very backward way of looking way at politics to slice and dice.
NJ What’s the biggest misperception about your candidate?
Stevens I don’t know. People every day are getting a better sense of Governor Romney. I feel good about that. This is someone who has a very confident quality, and I think people are drawn to that.
NJ What about the view that as a wealthy corporate executive, he’s out of touch with ordinary Americans?
Stevens I don’t think that has worked very well, and I don’t think it will work very well. Clearly, we’re not a country that attacks success. We’re not a country that attacks people for starting businesses and succeeding in those businesses. The history of that sort of attack is not a very successful one.
NJ Are Romney and the Republican Party waging a “war on women,” as Democrats describe efforts to limit their access to abortion and contraception?
Stevens Americans don’t talk that way. People don’t talk that way. It may help them with their base. It may make them feel better. I don’t think it resonates or helps solve any problems.
NJ How are you going to catch up to Obama’s ground game, which he has been building for months and was so successful at in 2008?
Stevens We have a simple formula. We’re going to work harder, longer, and smarter. They’ll be bigger and more bloated, but I think we’re hungrier and have a lot more intensity.
NJ Don’t polls suggest that the intensity on your side is more anti-Obama than pro-Romney?
Stevens We’ll see how that plays out. The desire for a positive alternative is pretty intense, and that’s going to drive this race.
NJ Which states won by Obama in 2008 are your best chances to win in 2012?
Stevens When the president has a bad week, obviously, the map expands and more things come into play. Whatever is said about this is written in sand.
NJ What about battleground states where the economy is particularly lagging, such as Florida and Nevada?
Stevens I think we’ll win both those states. You can look at some states that have elected Republican governors and ask: Why wouldn’t they elect a Republican president?
NJ But some of those newly elected Republican governors are very unpopular, such as Rick Scott in Florida. Democrats say he will hurt Romney’s chances in Florida.
Stevens I don’t. Rick Scott is doing a terrific job, and he’s a terrific governor. I think if Barack Obama ran against Rick Scott for governor, Rick Scott would beat him. I think if Joe Biden ran against Rick Scott, Rick Scott would beat him. I think people in Florida have a pretty good sense that what they hoped to happen under President Obama hasn’t happened.
This article appears in the May 16, 2012, edition of National Journal Magazine.