Mitt Romney was slow to dive into close-contact retail campaigning–for months Romney snuck along with a frontrunner campaign, popping up occasionally to bash the President’s “failure” on the economy– and we’re starting to see why. The political media seemed to lose interest in RomneyCare ever since since the former Massachusetts governor addressed that glaring liability in his record with a May speech, which is exactly what Romney wanted. But not the voters!
As NPR reported last night, everywhere Romney goes, people ask about the subject Romney least wants to discuss. NPR’s Don Gonyea made the apt analogy to Hillary Clinton’s Iraq war vote, which guaranteed a buzz-killing moment at virtually every one of her campaign stops in 2008. This New Hampshire Union Leader account of a Romney town hall in Keene illustrates the dynamic:
Taking a microphone, a man in the back said, “We want to vote for you. But if you did MassCare, what’s to stop you from doing ObamaCare?”
Romney had addressed the issue in a stump speech upon entering the recreation meeting room. “The first thing I will do in the White House is to make sure ObamaCare is history and not our future.”
Note that Romney had tried to preempt the health care question in his stump speech, but this guy still wanted to grill him about it. And it’s only likely to get worse. As the primary unfolds and Romney’s rivals hammer away at the issue, as Rick Perry did this morning, voters will hear more and more about the horrors of RomneyCare, which will lead them to ask more hostile questions, which will lead to more tense moments on the stump, and more news articles that don’t focus on Romney’s preferred message (jobs and the economy). It’s not exactly a winning formula, and Romney will have to work creatively to steer the conversation in other directions.
Speaking of confrontational moments, Romney faced off with another hostile questioner yesterday over his support for a balanced budget amendment and the role of government. Apparently some people saw Romney losing his temper in this episode, but to my eyes he did a decent job of treating a well-spoken (if persistent) critic with respect while defending his own position fairly effectively. It was actually the kind of exchange it’d be great to see more of on the presidential trail: