Boston, MA--The Boston Convention Center is decked out in red, white and blue and every television set throughout the cavernous halls is turned to Fox News. The well-dressed crowd has been waiting several hours for Mitt Romney, whom former Governor Bill Weld just described to the crowd as an "American hero." Hundreds are waiting, snacking on pretzels and chips, clutching red and white "Mitt Romney" thunder sticks and trading election gossip.
Despite the fact that Mitt Romney has, so far, only officially won Massachusetts and Utah in the Super Tuesday contests, the crowd remains relatively pumped. Mary Freeman, an 18 year old Yale student, cranes her neck to take in the scene and can't stop grinning. She explains, "Romney has the executive leadership and the ability to turn around failing institutions. It is what DC needs .... If he loses I don't know if I'm ready to support McCain. I think I'd cry."
Nine of the ten supporters I spoke with at the viewing party mentioned Mitt Romney's business experience and economic savvy as their primary motivation for voting for him. None mentioned his social values. None mentioned his gubernatorial record.
Perhaps that isn't so surprising. Boston is welcoming home its prodigal son. Of course, home is a relative concept for a Governor who, according to the Boston Globe, spent 212 days of 2006 visiting 35 states and eight countries, clearly laying the groundwork for a presidential run.
Part of the reason his vigorous travel schedule was possible is because the Governorship of Massachusetts is a constitutionally weak office. The statehouse runs the Commonwealth, not the Governor's mansion. In fact, there is no Governor's mansion in the state of Massachusetts, making quite the visual metaphor. David King, a lecturer at the Kennedy School of Government who specializes in political parties and electoral reform, explains "Governors here are often largely irrelevant. And since Mitt didn't have much to do as governor, his main job was running for President." Of course, to be fair, Republican Governors in a state like Massachusetts may have more time on their hands than most. During Romney's Governorship, the Democrats in the state legislature had a veto-proof majority in both houses. (It is worth noting that another state with a constitutionally weak Governor's office is Texas, an office George W. Bush occupied during the 2000 campaign season.)
Of course, this stand off only enhances Romney's campaign image as an eyedropper full of red in an ocean of blue. This message irks some Massachusetts residents. As King points out, "he is selling himself as being from but not of Massachusetts, by saying he disciplined the belly of liberal America." (This tactic isn't unlike the one Giuliani pursued as he attempted to find a toehold with the conservative base using a message that seemed to distill down to "Can you believe I managed to tame the rabidly liberal multicultural beast of New York City? Oh, and 9/11.")
But, of course, distancing himself from his former record causes a bit of whiplash to those Romney used to govern. When Bay State residents hear Michael Murphy, a Romney advisor, explaining ''[Romney's] been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly," a bit of cognitive dissonance is to be expected. As Carl and Judy Sapers, both 75, of Cambridge, explained, "He was a satisfactory governor, he was dashing, and, at the time, he was where we'd like him to be on social questions like gays and choice. That is what makes him seducing the fundamentalists so much more infuriating. He doesn't feel like he is ours." Ultimately, Romney has a bit of the feel of a man from nowhere in particular.
The crowd is starting to shift uneasily. Some start to leave. A staffer announced Romney will arrive in fifteen minutes. The Massachusetts win was always a foregone conclusion. But most in the crowd are realistic about Romney's chances. They know it is a long, uphill climb.
As a group of students diagnose Romney's chance of getting the nomination, Alex, a 26 year old graduate student from Utah, explains Romney's appeal: "He understands inflation, he understands fundamental economics. McCain seems economically inept, which scares me. Sure he might have good advisors but so did Bush and that didn't work out." Plaudits for Romney aside, when asked who he thought would win the Republican nomination, Alex paused, sighed and, without missing a beat, "well, McCain."
A few moments later red, white and blue signs start to wave rhythmically to chants of "Mitt, Mitt, Mitt" as he approaches the stage. Climbing the stage to hearty applause, Romney announces around 10:40pm: "My wife Anne said to me the one thing that is clear tonight is that nothing is clear."