From One TIME Cover To The Next: A Romney Voyage

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A few weeks back, the higher powers here at TIME put presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on the cover with a flattering photo and an unflattering headline that captured the moment: “Why Don’t They Like Me?” After months of see saw polling, Newt Gingrich was ascending. On the trail, Romney responded with his disciplined cheerfulness. When voters on the trail asked him to sign the cover–a risk for any presidential candidate in an election year–he simply crossed out the “n’t” in “Don’t” and offered his Hancock.

This week, recognizing how far Romney has come, all but vanquishing Gingrich and clearing the way with an Iowa win, TIME is running nearly the same cover, with a new line. “So You Like Me Now?” The answer, as the cover article by David Von Drehle attests, is increasingly, Yes. Not always as a first choice, perhaps, but neither as a last choice. As Von Drehle writes:

So can anyone stop Romney? As first Bachmann, then Perry, then Herman Cain, then Gingrich roared past him in the polls, it seemed that everyone could beat Romney, but no one has. Now the answer depends on whether the GOP, after its tempestuous Tea Party uprising, has turned a new page or is back to the same old nominate-the-next-guy story.

The full article is online and available to subscribers, digital or otherwise. Suffice it to say, I would recommend it, as I would my sidebar to the piece, which explores the ways in which Romney has depended on a most unlikely political guru to plot his political revival–from serial silver medalist in 2008, to 2012 gold medal winner in Iowa, by a hair. That lodestar: Candidate Barack Obama, circa 2008, who now shows up more in Romney’s stump speeches, often singled out for faint-praise, than George Romney got mentioned in early 2007. The entire message structure of Romney’s 2012 campaign, from its slogan to its theory of the electorate, draws heavily from the campaign that Obama pulled together four years ago. And by highlighting the Obama of 2008, Romney is attempting a crafty trick: To convince the independent voters who flocked to Obama that the President they got has failed the expectations of the man they elected. As one Romney aide told me, “Have you been to a job fair? Please go. If John Steinbeck were alive today, he would not be voting for Barack Obama.”

It’s an argument, a rather fierce one, that the nation is likely to hear a lot more in the coming months.

(PHOTOS: The Rich History of Mitt Romney)