Candidates' Makeovers Surprise Hometown Voters

Almost every week, voters in New Mexico make concerned phone calls to a small office on the campus of the University of Iowa.

They're worried about the low poll numbers in the state for their favorite son, Gov. Bill Richardson, and they want political science professor Bruce Gronbeck to explain the discrepancy between the presidential candidate's popularity at home and in Iowa.

"They know him and like him and they don't understand why he's not doing better," Gronbeck said about Richardson, who consistently polls fourth in Iowa. "Well, there's a reason for that. Richardson spent the first few months going around Iowa giving us his resume -- 'Look how good I am' -- and that turned some people off."

Richardson, along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and other presidential candidates, have all changed their images in both subtle and significant ways as they make a national run for the White House.

That makeover is an essential step for politicians better known in their home districts than on the national stage. But when local and national perceptions clash, that transformation can lead to unexpected results.

Romney has worked hard in the last several months to emphasize his credentials as a social conservative, touting his anti-abortion, anti-gay-marriage and tax-cutting stances.

And many voters in Iowa seem convinced.

"Romney is seen by Iowans as a true social conservative," said Brian Dumas, a political consultant who worked for former candidate Tommy Thompson. "He's overcome the question mark about him being the governor of a liberal state. In the beginning, people were suspicious of that but he seems to have overcome that. People like him when they meet him."

That transformation comes as a surprise to some voters in Massachusetts, where Romney was governor from 2003 to 2007, who recall him running for office as a moderate Republican.

"He was certainly not elected as a social conservative," said Michael J. Widmer, the president of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. "His public positions on abortion and gay marriage were nuanced and he appealed to the nonideological suburban voters."

Widmer is also skeptical of Romney's claims to be a tax-cutting fiscal conservative. "He's talked about reducing taxes. I don't know what he's referring to. He made a couple of tiny tax reductions, but, in general, taxes were not reduced here and he proposed tax increases on corporation and higher fees. He talks about a dramatic turnaround in Massachusetts -- our economy never rebounded while he was here and it still hasn't."

Other voters in Massachusetts are more sympathetic of Romney's changing stances. "He was more accepting of pro-choice because Massachusetts is a liberal state and I suppose that he has to bend a little," said retired printing company owner Harold Gurwitz. "I think his integrity is totally superb and I think he had the benefit of the citizenry at heart when he was governor."

Giuliani has also worked to transform his image, accentuating his role as "America's Mayor," the calm leader who steadied New York City in the wake of Sept. 11. He has also shifted from the left to the center on certain issues like abortion, guns and immigration.

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