Primary Hopefuls Hurt Romney

Republican candidates for president earlier this year conducted bitter and divisive campaigns while seeking the GOP nomination. Political observers predicted the charges and countercharges would come back to haunt the winner.

That day has arrived.

President Obama and his Democratic Party re-election campaign organization have been more than happy to use the ammunition in their current attacks on Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee. Some big names in the GOP now believe charges that Romney outsourced jobs while at Bain Capital and his offshore bank accounts are causing him problems.

Charlie Cook of Washington, D.C., a Shreveport native who is recognized as one of the best political handicappers in the country, said during a Lake Charles speech last December that Romney would win the GOP nomination. His prediction came before the presidential primary campaign season began.

“What you’re seeing is the establishment is starting to get behind him (Romney),” Cook said. “This guy can beat Obama. Republicans will coalesce behind a guy who has a shot. Others couldn’t beat Obama.”

Obama was vulnerable, Cook said, because of his poor job approval ratings. He said if voters don’t like the job a president is doing, they usually don’t vote for him.

The other Republican primary candidates obviously didn’t agree with Cook that Romney was the best choice. They threw everything at him, including the proverbial “kitchen sink.” Now, it has become fodder for the Obama re-election team.

The National Journal, a Washington Beltway news magazine, in an online story talks about Barry Bennett, who produced a 28-minute documentary that helped former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich win the South Carolina presidential primary. It brought up the issue of Romney’s connection to Bain Capital, the company accused of being a corporate raider and one that outsourced American jobs.

Bennett thinks the damage has been minimized, that the issue gave Romney time to prepare his rebuttal and made him a stronger candidate. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

Cook has a political column in National Journal in which he talks about the current status of the presidential campaign. It doesn’t sound too favorable to Romney.

“This presidential election is starting to confound me,” he said. “The fundamentals are pulling strongly in favor of Mitt Romney, but it is becoming increasingly apparent that President Obama’s campaign seems consistently a half step, sometimes a full step or two, ahead of the Romney effort.”

Normal measuring sticks in a political campaign — disposable personal income, economic growth, unemployment rates and consumer confidence — aren’t where they need to be to help Obama, Cook said. However, he added that the attacks “are sticking to Romney like Velcro.

Romney continues to insist he isn’t going to release any additional tax returns because that would only provide more ammunition for the Obama team. There is no doubt he’s right, but some conservative writers and Republican political advisers think the release of more tax returns is the only way to quiet the opposition.

If Romney thinks more tax returns won’t curtail Obama’s constant harping on them, he needs to figure out how to seize the initiative. A quick decision on a vice presidential running mate has been suggested as a way to shift the election focus. That might work for a time, but the only thing that is going to turn the momentum in Romney’s favor is to refocus on the sagging national economy.

Cook made that point here last December.

“By the time you start running for re-election, whether it’s your fault or not, you own the economy,” Cook said. “It’s yours, and you have to run on it.”

Romney campaign spokesmen try to shift the focus back to the economy, but their words often sound hollow. Eric Fehrnstrom, a senior adviser, tried to do that when Romney appeared with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at a Baton Rouge fund-raiser this week.

“The nightly conversation at the dinner table is not about when Romney left Bain Capital. It’s about jobs,” Fehrnstrom said.

Those who are out of work would certainly agree, but outsourcing is definitely a credible issue with the unemployed.

Romney insists he left Bain Capital before the outsourcing started, but he’s having a difficult time proving it since paperwork he signed indicates he still had a connection.

Some seasoned political observers think this facet of the campaign will fade the closer the country gets to the election. They may be right because voters do get weary when some issues are thrown at them day in and day out. The economy may resurface as their No. 1 priority.

Independent voters still hold the key to the election outcome. Cook says many of them might not vote, considering “their contempt for both sides and each candidate.” However, he does give the GOP one glimmer of hope.

“But if they do vote, I’d rather not be the incumbent, given their sour outlook on things,” Cook said.

I have a lot of respect for Cook’s opinions. He’s right more often than many analysts, and his Louisiana political credentials give him added credibility.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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