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Mitt Romney’s Reputation May Mean a New Playbook

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“The dominant conversation that takes place amongst conservative activists is how to get motivated for a nominee who at times seems to lack a defining ideology,” said Fleischman, who publishes and writes for flashreport.org. “His job is not done.”

Democrats have been trying to paint Romney as too extreme since early in the Republican primary campaign and would contend that the former Massachusetts governor is anything but a good fit for independents, centrists and other swing voters. The Obama campaign has been hard at work trying to turn Romney’s business experience into a negative, while also hammering him on what his positions would mean for women, a key voting bloc currently leaning toward the president.

Republicans concede that the issue of immigration could prove politically problematic for Romney. During the primary he staked out a defined stance in favor of strong enforcement of the border with Mexico. Any attempt to soften this position to improve his support among Hispanics — where he lags dangerously — could revive charges that the governor is a “flip-flopper” and do him significant harm with conservatives and other voting demographics.

But absent that issue, GOP campaign advisers believe Romney is occupying the political sweet spot as the general election campaign against Obama gets under way in earnest. The economic recovery has been tepid and slow, enabling Romney to charge that Obama has failed on the No. 1 issue voters care about, while styling his own message around job creation and raising incomes and security for those who are employed.

This campaign theme cuts across party lines naturally, and as long as Romney can rely on it to prosecute his case against the president, an overt move to the center on an issue that might raise the eyebrows of wary conservatives might not be necessary, Republicans assert.

Still, that doesn’t mean Romney can avoid taking politically tricky positions on issues, as he did when he crossed many Congressional Republicans and joined Obama to support spending taxpayer dollars to keep student-loan interest rates from rising. Unlike Obama, the former Massachusetts governor argued for spending cuts elsewhere to pay for extension of the loan program. He took some heat from conservatives but generally survived the debate unscathed.  

“He’ll be fine with centrist voters. His manner is mild, he’s not associated with any far-right issues and his economic message is modulated for swing voters,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based Republican consultant. “The issue he needs to show some pivot on is immigration; it’s the only issue he really went hard-right on in his rhetoric.”

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