Romney faces high negative ratings as he turns to general election

The Takeaway

It’s no secret Mitt Romney will have to change his image moving from the primary season to the general election.

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released late last month, the presumed Republican nominee had the highest negative rating of any major presidential contender since the poll’s launch: 50 percent. But in the past week, the campaign has begun to reorient itself. Romney has been appearing backed by women supporters at events and speaking out on women’s issues, a constituency with which he has lagged far behind President Barack Obama.

The candidate and his wife, Ann, recently sat down with Diane Sawyer for their first joint national television interview. It aired Monday night. Many in the Republican Party are calling on Romney to embrace his Mormon faith to allow voters a window into his personal life.

Ron Christie, Republican political strategist, said Romney did relatively well with Sawyer, though he “had a relatively low bar,” he added.

“People think he’s Mr. Plastic Man. People don’t think he has a good personality. I think all he had to do was to present himself and be with his wife and come across as a normal person,” Christie said.

The broader question, though, is can Romney turn around his substantial unfavorable ratings between now and the general election in November, Christie siad.

Anna Sale, reporter for It’s A Free Country, said it was interesting to watch the Romneys body language during the interview. While Mitt Romney’s body language and responses seemed stilted, perhaps forced, Sale said, but when his wife spoke he seemed to show an element of reality that was missing when he was answering Sawyer’s questions.

“Her whole focus through the interview was to emphasize her husband’s compassion, was to emphasize how she believed in him. That it was their time, as she said,” Sale explained.

Christie said it’s fair to characterize Ann Romney as Mitt Romney’s softer, warmer side — something Sawyer called his ambassador to the world.

“Spouses in political life are often used just for that very purpose,” Christie said. “I think the problem you see with Romney right now is ‘Let Romney be Romney.’ I know all of his campaign folks, or most of them, and they’re so careful about making sure he has the right message, the right image. You get all that stuff in your head and it doesn’t come out right.”

In the interview, Romney also made a more nuanced statement about his views on abortion — at least more nuanced than you’d heard from him during the primary election season. Romney said he’s like the Supreme Court to send the abortion question back to the states, rather than set policy at the federal level. But, he continued, he is pro-life.

“He’s maintaining that position, but it shows that he’s making the transition from the primary to the general, but he’s staying consistent,” Sale said.

Christie said Romney’s strengths are economic and management issues. Christie would like to see Romney devote more time and energy to discussing issues where he can shine, and not on social issues where he often trips up.

“It’s clear that Mitt Romney knows how to run a business, how to run an organization. Let Mitt be Mitt,” Christie said. “Republicans and conservatives fall into this trap about talking about abortion and Roe vs. Wade, and ‘we should let the states decide.” As a lawyer, I can tell you, I do not believe this is ever going to be overruled in our lifetime.”

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