Mitt Romney as Regular Joe? Lessons from the Al Gore campaign

Lessons for the Mitt Romney campaign from Al Gore?

Decoder had a recent email exchange with Mark Pfeifle, part of the Republican National Committee’s message machine in the 2000 election cycle, in which Pfeifle noted some strong parallels between how Republicans went after Al Gore and how Democrats are now trying to characterize Mitt Romney.

For example, back in August, Romney tweeted about eating breakfast at Subway and flying commercial (on low-cost provider Southwest Airlines, no less):

“Thanks @subwayfreshbuzz for breakfast. Better than usual campaign diet of morning donuts.”

That drew an immediate response from Bill Burton, the lead attack dog at Democratic “Super PAC” Priorities USA:

“When Governor Romney decided that he would say or do anything to get elected, you have to imagine he didn’t think it would involve flying in non-private aircraft and eating at Subway. In fairness, as someone who made a vast fortune laying off American workers his identity is indeed in need of a makeover. (And quadrupling his beach home in an exclusive San Diego neighborhood isn’t exactly helping that effort.)

But in his attempted makeover, Governor Romney is simultaneously highlighting a key weakness: he is willing to do or say anything to become President, even if it means changing his positions, his appearance, and his sandwich.”

As Pfeifle points out, these are very reminiscent of “the old attacks we used – successfully – more than a decade ago against Vice President Al Gore. If you replace Romney with Gore, it’s almost a complete copycat of what our team did in 2000.” (Check out the old Glen Beck video below, mocking Al Gore’s efforts to appear “more human.”)

It’s also quite similar to the way the Bush team ran against John Kerry back in 2004. Both Gore and Kerry were presented as utterly inauthentic – lacking core convictions not only when it came to political issues, but as a matter of basic character. As Pfeifle puts it:

“Gore tried too hard to be a Regular Joe and people caught on to it. The Republicans have to be authentic and believable. Nobody thinks Romney likes the middle seat in coach on a flight to New Hampshire or would rather have a cold cut combo than Beef Wellington…. People see phony from a mile away. “

Tellingly, Gore/Kerry-like characterizations of Romney are already emerging in the media landscape. This morning, the Washington Post ran a must-read story about Mitt Romney’s personality out on the stump. Philip Rucker writes:

“When voters exposed themselves emotionally, Romney offered little empathy. When they sought his support for their causes, Romney didn’t show them that he cared. Romney was scripted when he could have been spontaneous. He was boardroom cool when he could have been living room warm.”

Nor is Romney facing this assault from Democrats alone. As POLITICO’s Mike Allen wrote in his ultimate DC insider “Playbook” after the last GOP debate:

During fight night in Vegas, Rick Perry went HARD and EARLY at Mitt Romney over the inadvertent hiring of illegal immigrants as lawn-care workers at his former home in Belmont, Mass, which was revealed by The Boston Globe in 2006. THE REASON: Perryworld believes voters will see it as a PERSONAL CHARACTER issue rather than simply a POLICY question. Although Perry does not appear to have new facts about the episode, his aides think it helps them portray Romney as a HUMAN WEATHERVANE.

So how could Romney save himself from a Gore or Kerry-like fate? Pfeifle thinks it’s less Subway sandwiches, more straight talk:

“After all the economic chaos of the last three years, people want someone to shoot straight with them. President Obama, in many people’s estimations, isn’t doing it. The first Republican candidate to grab hold of the authenticity mantle will likely win the primary and – if unemployment remains high – the presidency as well.”

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