Tad Devine knows a little something about a candidate losing control of his narrative. The Democratic media consultant served as a senior adviser and strategist to Democrat Sen. John Kerry’s 2004 campaign for president, a campaign best remembered for coining the phrase “Swift Boating.”
So, does Devine agree with those who say that Romney needs to do a better job defining himself and his record?
“Having gone through what I’ve gone through,” said Devine, “I think it’s a big mistake.”
“They [Romney] will lose if they let the other side turn him into a caricature.”
Advertising run by the Obama campaign and the pro-Obama SuperPAC Priorities USA has cast Romney as a heartless “job destroyer” and outsourcer-in-chief who bought companies, “drowned them in debt” and “drove them into the ground.”
Devine argues that it’s this time of year when a candidate can “get defined the wrong way.”
It was in August 2004 that Swift Boat Veterans for Truth began running an ad that questioned Kerry’s military credentials and awards.
The Kerry campaign, which was low on campaign cash, decided that they couldn’t afford to respond immediately. If they spent their meager resources in August, the campaign feared, they wouldn’t have enough money for the critical fall months.
That decision proved to be damaging to Kerry, who was just starting to formally introduce himself to the American public.
Polling taken by ABC News showed a steady deterioration in Kerry’s approval ratings from August to September.
While the Romney campaign has had a solid couple of months of fundraising — they and the RNC raised $106 million in June alone — they argue that they are restricted by campaign finance rules in how they spend it. In a memo released Monday by the campaign, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul writes, “Besides the fact that we are facing off against an incumbent president who has been able to fully engage in a fundraising battle this entire campaign, as we could not, we are only allowed to spend primary dollars from now through the convention.”
Even so, are the ads they are running effective as they can be?
The Romney team is quite pleased with a series of ads they have run called “Day 1.” They introduce Americans to “what a Romney presidency would be like” on the first day he steps into the Oval Office. These ads, say Romney advisers, are important in helping to define Romney’s top priorities as president.
Devine, however, finds those ads rather “presumptive ” and “a little cocky.” This is the kind of ad that you run “post convention,” once you have gotten the gravitas that comes with taking the national spotlight for three days, he said.
Romney’s problem isn’t just that people don’t know enough specifics about his policies, they don’t know enough about him as a person. When choosing their president, voters want more than a resume, says Devine. They want to take a real measure of the man.
Devine suggests an ad that features Romney speaking directly to camera.
“People need to look him in the eye,” he said.