Behind Closed Doors, Romney at Peace as Vote Nears
By Scott Conroy - October 18, 2012
After a lifetime of meticulous planning, relentless self-discipline, and a potent brew of hard work and good fortune, Mitt Romney has the presidency nearly within reach.
The pursuit of that ultimate political prize, which he first caught whiff of when his father chased it more than four decades ago, has been Romney's sole vocation over the last half-dozen years.
He has pursued it with rare vigor, slogging through a nomadic existence of takeout meals, countless handshakes and canned speeches.
Over that time, there have been more than a few moments when his quest seemed like it might come to an unceremonious end. But the political destiny Mitt Romney has been working toward for so long has never been more attainable than it is now with just 19 days left till the election.
Not one to indulge in introspection when there is still much work to do, the GOP nominee has neither the time nor inclination to reflect on his odyssey before the votes are tallied on Nov. 6.
But according to many of his aides -- who have had a closer vantage point than anyone other than Romney’s immediate family -- the candidate who frequently appeared ill at ease along his journey has gained a sense of peace from knowing he’s done just about all he can to make his case for the presidency.
Senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom has been by Romney’s side since his 2002 gubernatorial campaign. The former Boston Herald reporter-turned-Romney-confidant said his boss is “tired but running on adrenaline” and remains focused on the task at hand -- while also cognizant that his fate now rests largely outside his control.
“You know, the cake is baked,” Fehrnstrom said. “All the policy is done, the debates are nearly over now, scheduling is just about finished, we know all the battleground states we’re going to be visiting over the next three weeks. The arguments have all been developed and deployed, so it really is a matter now of talking to as many people as possible in the states that matter until Nov. 6.”
No one in the campaign has any doubts that during the stretch run, Romney will push into an even higher gear, heightening the work ethic that has awed those around him and been a key factor in getting him to this point.
And with another crucial debate, dozens more rallies, and formulating and effectively conveying a closing message still on his to-do list, there are plenty of reasons for Romney to resist the temptation to glimpse into the rear-view mirror.
This equanimity and acceptance differs dramatically from Romney’s state of mind earlier this month when he trailed in the polls, reports of campaign staff turmoil were rife and he scarcely seemed able to open his mouth without making matters worse.
It was then, when the pre-mortem vultures were circling over his campaign’s still beating heart, that even close supporters wondered whether Romney could right the ship.
Kevin Madden is one of the few senior aides who have been by Romney’s side through most of the candidate’s waking hours the last couple of months. According to the veteran of Romney’s 2008 campaign, the pre-Denver debate doldrums had a positive effect on the man who built a reputation in business as a turnaround specialist.
“A couple weeks ago, everybody was talking about the campaign in such negative terms, and I think in many ways that totally clarified for the governor why he was running and what was at stake and the importance of the election,” Madden said. “It really focused him. It really did.”
Madden said that Romney has “found real comfort” in his political career’s rapidly approaching D-Day, and has conveyed privately that he is now considering more seriously the tall task that will greet him should everything goes as hoped for on Election Day.
“He seems to be more inclined to think about how he’s going to govern,” Madden said. “He has said in some conversations that he recognizes what an enormous challenge it’s going to be because it is going to be a very close election, and he sort of welcomes that.”
Romney advisers emphasized that the GOP standard-bearer is by nature too disciplined and focused to dwell at length on his potential transition into the White House. But several added that Romney has been buoyed visibly by the palpable surge in enthusiasm surrounding his campaign the last couple of weeks.
The former Massachusetts governor was able to secure his party’s nomination in no small part because he convinced enough Republican partisans that he is the candidate best able to defeat President Obama, even if he wasn’t able to elicit the loudest cheers from supporters.
But now Romney is being greeted regularly by crowds that are both large and boisterous. Senior adviser Ron Kaufman traveled regularly with the candidate four years ago when Romney typically held four or five events a day but rarely drew more than a couple hundred people to them. That sleepy dynamic has changed dramatically, and the new one is rubbing off on Romney’s psyche.
“I’ve never seen a Republican candidate -- even an incumbent, other than Reagan -- getting the crowds that Mitt’s getting today,” Kaufman said. “We were in Ohio last weekend and literally, over three days, every crowd was 8-, 9-, 10,000 people. It pumps you up, you know.”
It is a political cliché that every campaign is a reflection of the candidate, but the sense of calm optimism is indeed seen in those who surround Romney. The members of his inner circle acknowledge that the race is essentially a tossup according to the polls, but each of them is buoyed by their faith in Romney’s ability to pull it out in the end.
Kerry Healey, who served as Romney’s lieutenant governor in Massachusetts, suggested she is comforted by a sense that history is repeating itself. In late-October 10 years ago, after all, Romney and his running mate were slightly trailing their Democratic opponents in the polls.
“We were the underdogs, and it came down to the last debate,” Healey recalled of the 2002 gubernatorial race. “And he hit the cover off the ball. I think he’s a very good closer.”