WASHINGTON -- If Mitt Romney is going to win the presidency he’ll need the votes of guys such as Dave Sedler, whom I met recently in a coffee shop in New Hampshire. A soft-spoken, 54-year-old husband and father of three, Sedler is a manufacturer’s rep for a window-and-solar company. He judges everything -- including politics -- through the prism of his sales figures.
These days, the numbers are not great. Solar is okay; housing is not.
Which means two things: Sedler, who sees himself as an independent and who sometimes votes for Democrats, already has ruled out voting for President Barack Obama in 2012. And, at first glance, he views Romney -- with his extensive business management resume -- as a plausible alternative, at least for now.
"I don’t really know much about him," Sedler told me as he looked up from his laptop over coffee at Me and Ollie’s coffee bar in Exeter. "I don’t pay that much attention to politics. But I think he does know something about business, which is a good thing."
Sedler had a second reason for looking to Romney: However weak a Republican frontrunner Romney is -- and he is a weak one -- Romney is at this point the most logical tool to reach for if you're determined to deny the president a second term and you are not obsessed with the fine points of conservative dogma. “We already know that Obama’s plan won’t work,” Sedler said.
As the GOP campaign lurches onto the stage tonight for its televised debut on CNN, this is where things stand: The seeming relapse of a weak economy -- and, perhaps, a certain national impatience with charisma in high places -- has put the weakest frontrunner in a generation in precisely the right spot as the race begins.
Poking around New Hampshire and elsewhere, I am struck by how little positive, personal enthusiasm Romney evokes.
You would think that such weak allegiance would matter: He has "surged" in recent weeks to where he has 24 percent GOP support.
It’s a fact of life that he and his campaign are cleverly trying to turn to their advantage in studied contrast to Obama. It’s as if Romney is saying he knows he is both boring and bland and has neither personal charisma nor a generational movement behind him. But he knows what makes markets move and knows how to manage.
My guess is that this is too clever by half. Romney won’t win the nomination, let alone the presidency, with anti-theatrical theatrics. Nor can he do so merely by attacking the president -- as the Romney campaign did in a tough new “bump in the road” video.
To win the allegiance and vote of Dave Sedler, Romney needs a real economic plan with real answers to real questions.
According to Sedler, the country “needs to learn to live within its means, just like any family does” – and Romney has yet to present a credible plan to do so. Endorsing more tax cuts won’t cut it.
According to Sedler, we need to figure out how to keep manufacturing jobs -- windows, solar panels, sky lights: the goods he sells -- in America and not let them go abroad. “It seems like India, China, Indonesia, Korea, you name it, they are the ones who are getting the jobs. What are we going to do?” Romney has yet to present a credible plan to do so. Endorsing more tax cuts won’t cut it.
According to Sedler, the next president also needs to figure out how to save public education. (He knows about that: His wife is a teacher; he has two kids in college one and on high school.) Romney has yet to present a credible plan to do so. It takes money and community commitment. Endorsing more tax cuts won’t cut it.
Dave Sedler is a man who likes spreadsheets and bottom lines. At some point, he will look at Mitt Romney’s. And then he will decide.