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Overestimating Romney

Aside from getting votes, he’s a great candidate.

Dec 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 14 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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Yet Romney’s victory was, as a matter of raw political power, less impressive than it seems. Romney was actually the fourth in a string of Republican governors who ran the state from 1990 until 2006. Of that group, Romney received the lowest percentage of the vote, failing to break the 50-percent mark in his 2002 victory. He took home a smaller share of the vote even than Paul Cellucci, the political nonentity who won the 1998 election. After three years in office, Romney’s approval rating was so low that he was forced to abandon hope of reelection. Romney’s term concluded with a Democrat winning the governor’s office for the first time in 20 years.

More evidence of voters’ coolness toward Romney came in a recent Public Policy study, which took snapshots from 13 states both early and late in 2011. In all 13 states, he became less popular as the year progressed. Even more telling were Romney’s negatives—which increased in tandem with his name recognition. As Romney began campaigning more actively, voters became less favorably disposed toward him.

None of this is meant as a judgment on Romney’s worthiness as a candidate or accomplishments as a governor. But it is worth understanding that if elections are markets and candidates products, then Mitt Romney’s problems this time around aren’t some great mystery.

It’s just that no matter where he’s run, whether in primaries or statewide elections, he’s never sold particularly well.

Jonathan V. Last is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.

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