09/20/2012 09:58 am ET Updated Sep 20, 2012

The Disappearance Of Mitt Romney: Campaign's Push To Humanize Him Evaporates

MIAMI, Fla -- Mitt Romney's campaign produced a 10-minute documentary film about the candidate that forced even liberal Democrats, when it was shown at the Republican National Convention, to admit that it was a moving portrayal of Romney's life and values.

The problem is not very many people have seen the video, and the Romney campaign appears to have made little effort to change that. Romney revealed to donors in Atlanta on Wednesday that he himself had not seen the entire thing until it was shown before his remarks at a fundraiser.

Romney said the footage of his deceased father, former Michigan Gov. George Romney, "brought a tear to my eye."

"It touched my heart,” Romney said.

But the Romney campaign has done little to highlight the film. It's not featured on the campaign's website or YouTube page. It has a decent number of views on YouTube -- 145,000 as of Thursday morning -- but there are 25 other Romney campaign videos that have been seen more times, including a few that have over 1 million views. To find it online takes far more effort than it should.

It's the clearest example of how a promised push by the Republican nominee's campaign to better introduce their candidate to the nation, and to counter the image of him as a heartless corporate raider, has not materialized.

The Romney campaign said the Republican convention at the end of August would kick off a more aggressive telling of the Romney story. In fact, up until now, it appears that the convention was the beginning and the end of that effort.

Senior Romney adviser Ed Gillespie said Monday that at the convention "voters learned a lot about Romney as a person," and that now "they're eager to hear more details about policies to turn our economy around." In other words, the campaign has already checked the bio box.

But Republican insiders have been encouraging the campaign to get back to talking up Mitt, and who he is, so far with little luck.

The last night of the GOP convention was devoted to showing Romney's compassion and charity, which he is famously reluctant to show, seeing any talk of such things as immodest. Speakers included a former assistant to Romney in his Mormon church in Boston, who spoke of how when Romney was the lay pastor of the church, he would devote 15 to 20 hours a week to helping people in the congregation; and a couple who told the story of how Romney comforted and befriended their 14-year old son, afflicted with Hodgkin's disease, and helped the boy write a will in his last days divvying up his skateboard, model rockets and fishing gear among his friends.

None of those people, or any of the others who gave testimonials to Romney's character that night in Tampa, have been seen during the campaign since then.

It raises questions. Has the campaign concluded that redeeming Romney's reputation is a lost cause? Or has this effort been lost in the shuffle of a chaotic few weeks?

What makes these questions all the more salient is the fact that Romney's family, and his sons in particular, have stated publicly for a long time that they were worried that their father would be mislabeled and miscast.

On Wednesday night, the 65-year old Romney's youngest son, Craig, reiterated that concern while introducing his father at a rally here in a large indoor pavilion with about 3,000 supporters.

"One of my biggest concerns was that people wouldn't get to know him for who he truly is," Craig said, describing how he felt when his father told him he wanted to run for president a second time, after the 2008 election.

"I know my Dad. He's a man of incredible integrity and incredible experience. But I was concerned that the voters wouldn't get to know him like that," Craig said.

Craig didn’t go on to talk about how his concerns turned out not to be unfounded. In fact, he said essentially the opposite.

"We've seen some incredible things as we've gone through this process. He's been attacked left and right. And as his son, it's not easy to see that," Craig said. "But he loves America, and at the same time, what I've seen is an outpouring of support from the people he's served throughout the years."

Romney himself has made clear for many months now that he knows that how voters perceive him, and his motives and personality, will be crucial to his chances in the election.

Back in January, at a breakfast in New Hampshire, he uttered this telling line: " For me, this is going to be a battle about describing my heart, my passion to help -- if you will -- the great majority of Americans."

When he spoke to the NAACP in July, Romney said more minorities would support him if they only "understood who I truly am in my heart."

And yet this past week, the release of a video showing Romney talking about 47 percent of Americans who "are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims" reinforced the image of him as an uncaring figure who is dismissive of lower income voters. Romney was talking, essentially, as a political strategist assessing the electoral map, and it is true that about half the country does not pay federal income taxes (they do pay payroll, state and local taxes), but his tone and the way he characterized the 47 percent were disdainful.

Romney has counter-punched by jumping on a new video fed to the Drudge Report, showing President Barack Obama talking about being "in favor of redistribution" in 1998.

"I don't want to redistribute wealth in America. I want to build wealth in America," Romney said during a televised forum with Univision, the Spanish-language TV channel, here on Wednesday night.

Romney also debuted some new rhetoric in the Univision interview that was intended to make up for his 47 percent remark.

"My campaign is about the 100 percent of America," he said.

But even beyond those remarks, there were lines strewn throughout Romney's comments on Univision, as well as at the rally later across town, that indicated that he and his campaign have been jolted by the video. The lines suggested an attempt, even if it is late in the game, to talk more about how his policies will help people who are on the lower rungs of society.

"The president cares about the people of America. I care about the people of America. But he doesn't know what it takes to help the people of America, and I do. I'll get them working again," Romney said at the rally.

"I don't want an America where we think the future of our nation is going to be guided by a government who, that redistributes the income of the people. I want more incomes for everybody. I want to lift people out of poverty," he said.

At the Univision forum, Romney said his campaign is "about helping people who need help."

"And right now, the people who are poor in this country who need help getting out of poverty, the middle class, who need help because their incomes have gone down every year for the last four years," he said.

But words can only do so much. The image of Romney, in many voters' minds, has been set by a relentless, constant bombardment by the Obama campaign, going back many months.

A poll released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press showed that "Romney has gained no ground on Obama in being seen as more credible or more empathetic."

"Obama now leads Romney by nearly three-to-one (66 percent to 23 percent) as the candidate who connects well with ordinary Americans – an even wider margin than in June," Pew said.

Romney can counter this to some degree by getting out on the stump more, as his campaign said Wednesday he plans to do. The campaign will begin a three-day bus tour through Ohio starting Monday of next week, and Romney will join his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), on the second day of the tour.

But Romney's campaign could also help by running ads emphasizing their candidate's qualities and humanity.

"I would love to see a commercial that actually shows Romney for who he is," said Manny Garcia Jr., 24, a supporter of Romney's who attended his rally on Wednesday night with his father, Manny Garcia Sr., and his 22-year old sister Edyna.

So far, Manny Jr. said, "there's nothing where you could identify with him, get personal with him."

Even when it debuted the 10-minute bio film in Tampa, the Romney campaign aired it a few minutes before primetime on the last night of the convention, meaning the millions of Americans who tuned in when the three major networks started their coverage did not see it.

A senior Romney adviser said then that they did not show the film during primetime because they did not think the networks would carry it, and would instead have their on-air talent talking during the segment. But the Democrats showed a video in primetime during the last night of their convention, and got at least part of it out to the nationwide audience on cable and on some networks.

Obama, and the Democrats, have handled the dynamic of image far more ably in this election. And debates about whether image is more important than substance are, in the context of a battle for the presidency, ivory tower questions. The bottom line is, many voters are moved less by policy positions and more by the image of each candidate that is built in their minds through a variety of inputs.

And Republicans, to their detriment, seem not to have grasped that in this election.



Romney-Ryan 2012 Soundtrack