Mitt's Charlie Card

By DAVID S. BERNSTEIN  |  February 22, 2012

Unable to tell that story, both Baker and Romney offered only vague personal introductions before launching into attacks on the incumbent — and that doesn't work, says Democratic consultant Mary Ann Marsh of Dewey Square. "People have to get to know and like you before they believe what you're saying about your opponent," Marsh says. "Romney doesn't have the standing, because people in the country don't know him and like him as well as they do Obama right now."

6_ Counting beans

Baker's campaign ceaselessly focused on his plans to fix the state's bulging budget gap. His staff defended this strategy with polling indicated enormous support for doing so.

Romney is doing the same, promising to balance the budget and citing the massive federal deficit at every opportunity.

But in fact, very few people — certainly very few swing voters — choose their candidate on that issue.

Romney, like Baker, hopes to use the issue to argue that his opponent would raise taxes to balance the budget. But voters already believed that Patrick would raise taxes; that was baked into the cake, as the saying goes — as it was when John McCain played the same hand in 2008, despite the fact that polls showed that voters liked Obama even though they believed he would raise taxes.

Instead of gaining an advantage, the focus on the issue forces Romney, as it forced Baker, to play the austere bean-counter who would cut services and government jobs. This played perfectly to Patrick's argument that, unlike Baker, he brought a compassion and set of values to the tough budget decisions. It will work the same way for Obama.

7_ Getting trapped in the bubble

Baker and Romney are both awkward in direct engagement with voters. Both distrust the press, and get rattled in interviews and press conferences.

Both had years of lead time in which they could have forced themselves to improve through practice. Instead, both addressed the failings by attempting to avoid unscripted human contact.

The results are predictable: they are frequently terrible when forced to interact with the public, and the rarity of appearances ensures attention for each flub.

Republican consultant Todd Domke says this is one of Baker's weaknesses."The same is true of Romney," Domke says. "His staff kept him under the radar, away from situations that couldn't be controlled, avoiding media interviews. They wanted to program him, script him, instead of allowing him to grow and learn under pressure."

This becomes self-reinforcing; embarrassing incidents convince the candidate that the press is hostile, which makes him even more reticent to break out of the bubble, and more self-conscious when he does — witness Romney's self-destructive Bret Baier interview in late November.

8_ Chasing the third wheel

One reason that Baker reached too far to the right was the independent candidacy of state treasurer Tim Cahill. Baker and his advisers believed that Cahill would get the votes of many of the angry, white, right-of-center, male voters who helped Scott Brown get elected.

There is some evidence that Romney's overly Tea Party–ish campaigning stems from a similar fear.

The date with Trump is an obvious example. Another is Romney's kid-gloves approach to Ron Paul. The danger of goading Newt Gingrich into running solo might explain why Romney took so long to start criticizing him.

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