Mitt Romney, Telemarketer
The frontrunner takes a turn on the GOP phone bank.
Nov 7, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 08 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Candidate Romney at the Fairfax County Republican headquarters
Mitt Romney’s campaign stop here looks like that of a frontrunner—maybe even a future president. City police are blocking off part of the highway as cars of rubberneckers creep along past the spectacle. A band of highly energetic volunteers brandish signs on the sidewalk in front of the Fairfax County Republican party headquarters, while more police in sunglasses, doing their best Secret Service impressions, peer out at the road stone-faced.
Around the back of the building, organizers have placed a small platform and a microphone from which the candidate will speak. The media have responded in kind by setting up 17 camera tripods in a semicircle opposite the stage. There’s even a journalist from Sweden here. As the moment approaches, the crowd of supporters and reporters swells. Mitt Romney appears to be, to bowdlerize Joe Biden, a big freaking deal.
At 10:15 a.m., the Detroit-born Romney arrives, appropriately enough, in a silver Chevrolet Suburban. He’s in blue slacks and a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, with a light blue tie. His hair is somewhere between casually ruffled and exquisitely coiffed. He shakes hands with supporters as he walks the makeshift rope line.
“How are you?” Romney says. “Good to see you. Thank you for being here this morning.”
I’ve blended into the crowd a bit, and when he reaches me, I try to ask him a question.
“Governor, do you support the—”
He notices the pen and pad, pivoting away before I can finish. Back to the handshakes.
There may be no reason for Romney to answer many questions from the press at this point. It’s becoming increasingly clear, we’re told, that Romney is going to be the GOP nominee. In an October 23 column titled “The Inevitable Nominee,” Ross Douthat of the New York Times writes that “Romney’s path to the nomination is more wide open than for any nonincumbent in decades.” Recent articles at ABCNews.com and in the Washington Post ask the experts, “Is Mitt Romney inevitable?” The experts (inevitably) answer “yes.”
Indeed, the former governor of Massachusetts has been polling steadily well in the GOP primary, even as rivals like Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry have risen and fallen. According to the RealClearPolitics average of the national polls, Romney is statistically tied with Herman Cain, the latest pretender to the top spot. A recent collection of polls by CNN and Time show Romney either in the lead or tied for it in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Florida—the 2012 primary season’s first four contests.
But Iowa and the rest are still two months away, and while Romney hasn’t dropped in the polls, he hasn’t risen in them, either. Roughly 24 percent of Republicans nationwide want Romney as their nominee, which means 76 percent are open to someone else. Romney has a popularity deficit.
That could explain why he’s appearing here with Virginia governor Bob McDonnell, the nation’s most popular sitting governor, with approval ratings nearing 70 percent. He’s also a conservative running an important swing state, one that Barack Obama won by 7 points in 2008 after Virginia had voted for Republicans in 10 straight presidential elections. For Romney, whom conservatives in the party just don’t seem to trust, Bob McDonnell is a good friend to have.
McDonnell and Romney are visiting the Fairfax County GOP to rally volunteers ahead of Virginia’s elections on November 8. Republicans are hoping to build on their statewide victories in 2009 by capturing the state senate this year.
After a closed-door meeting in the office upstairs, the two men join Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling in the basement to see the volunteers working the phones. The anxious press crams into the room to watch Romney himself make a call to a Fairfax County voter named Salvatore, who isn’t home. Romney leaves a message.
“Salvatore, this is Mitt Romney calling,” Romney says. “It really is.” The volunteers laugh and cameras flash.
“I wanted to see if I could get you to vote for every Republican on the ballot this year,” he continues. “We need your help to get the senate back in Republican hands. Thanks, my friend, all the best.”
Romney has made appearances for McDonnell and the Virginia GOP before. He campaigned for the Republican ticket here in 2009, something McDonnell remembers.
“Governor Romney was incredibly helpful to the lieutenant governor and I back in 2009,” McDonnell says. “He came here several times and campaigned for us, got us a lot of press. He worked for us. He helped us raise money.”
It’s no secret that Romney would love McDonnell’s support. Bolling is already on board as the chairman of Romney’s campaign in Virginia. An endorsement isn’t expected here and now, but McDonnell gets awfully, painfully close.