David Axelrod, a top political strategist for President Obama, raised an interesting point about Mitt Romney's big speech in New Hampshire last night.
It's a fair point about an overlooked aspect of the speech. In fact, going through the transcript this afternoon, I noticed that Romney mentioned his father being a governor, but not his own term in office.
When I was doing research for this recent piece on presidential candidates and their pre-campaign experience in public service -- Romney's the least experienced nominee in 72 years -- I found plenty of governors and former governors who tried (and succeeded) to parlay their background as the chief executive of a state into becoming the chief executive of the nation.
But I could find no example of a major-party nominee whose only experience in government was serving as a governor, but who then made no effort to talk about this experience as part of his appeal to voters for national office. Nor could I find any examples of a governor quitting after one term, knowing he'd lose if he sought re-election, and then running for president.
And why is it, exactly, that Romney is avoiding the subject of his only background in public service? Perhaps because, during his 2003-to-2007 tenure, Romney failed to impress much of anyone.
"His favorability was basically a straight line down from his honeymoon," said David Paleologos, director of Suffolk University's Political Research Center and a longtime Massachusetts pollster. "Sometimes familiarity breeds contempt." [...]Romney entered the Massachusetts State House in January 2003 with a flashy favorability rating of 61 percent.... By November 2004, voters were souring, and a Suffolk poll found his favorable rating had dropped to 47 percent... By November 2006, as he closed out his increasingly absentee term, his overall job approval rating had cratered to 36 percent.
Thomas Whalen, a Boston University political science professor, put it this way: "To know Mitt Romney is to dislike him. That is the moral of the story."
Maybe he looks better in hindsight? No, Romney's former constituents still don't like him and still don't want him to be president.
Maybe it's because he was a GOP governor in a reliably "blue" state? No, Massachusetts has had plenty of modern Republican governors -- Weld, Cellucci, Swift -- and all were more popular with their Bay State constituents than Romney.
This is all generally overlooked, which is a shame because it seems pretty important.
We're talking about a politician who's held public office just once, for a grand total of four years. During that one term, his constituents got a good look at his leadership, and came to actively dislike him.
Romney looked at this and thought, "Hey, now I'm ready for a promotion to the White House!"
This is roughly the equivalent of North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue (D), who is stepping down after one term, burdened by a low approval rating, announcing that she's running for president in 2016.
This really ought to come up on the campaign trail more often. Here's the sample question reporters can ask Romney: why were you so woefully unpopular with your own constituents when voters gave you a chance to lead?