As more voters tune in, Romney tries to take control of his brand

January 16, 2012

By , The Washington Post

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Once Mitt Romney took the stage in New Hampshire last week to declare victory before hundreds of supporters chanting his name, he chastised President Obama. But he did not demonize him. Romney tried to identify with anxious Americans and said he could both fix the economy and unite the country. And he adapted Obama’s 2008 hope as his own: “We still believe,” Romney said. “We still believe.”Just as his opponents were trying to cast him as a “vulture capitalist,” Romney projected steadiness and warmth in a loving, handsome tableau with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Ann, their five sons, daughters in law and well-mannered grandchildren. The aspirational American family.

The next day, Romney aired his firstSpanish-language television advertisementin South Florida. It’s an uplifting, even gauzy spot narrated by his Spanish-speaking son, Craig. The title: “Nosotros,” or “Us.” The message: In Mitt Romney’s America, anything is possible.

And, as in every other Romney ad, it ended with a black-and-white still photograph of Mitt and Ann holding hands on a windswept farm. Again, steadiness and warmth.

These are the ways, overt and subtle, that Romney is sharpening his brand. The Republican presidential front-runner’s immediate objective is to polish off his rivalsby winning the next two primaries — Saturday in South Carolina and Jan. 31 in Florida. But with the race quickly moving beyond the early states, Romney also is trying to market himself to millions of voters in all the other states who are tuning in and forming their first impressions.

“As the megaphone gets bigger, you want to just continue that message that you’ve been building upon,” Romney adviser Russ Schriefer said. “This is ultimately going to be a contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama — the choice between what Mitt Romney will be talking and campaigning about and what Barack Obama has been doing, and competing visions for America.”

To many voters, Romney is an enigmatic candidate, and the battle to brand him is underway in South Carolina. The consequences are likely to ripple across the country and, if he becomes the nominee, set the terms for the general election fight with Obama.

Some of the other Republican candidates are trying to create a devastating portrait of Romney. They are attacking his workfounding and running Bain Capital, a venture capital and corporate buyout firm, by accusing him of prioritizing profits over workers. Supporters of former House speaker Newt Gingrich are airing a caustic documentary, “The King of Bain,” that depicts Romney as a greedy Wall Street raider who traveled the country slashing jobs, pocketing millions and having his shoes polished on airport tarmacs.

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