Romney runs campaign like the CEO he was

KASIE HUNT Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Republican nominee Mitt Romney seems to be pulling double duty these days -- as both the candidate and the campaign CEO.

He reviews TV ads and polling data on an iPad. He writes many of his own speeches. And he habitually talks like a consultant.

One instance of that gave him particular trouble last week, when a secretly taped speech he gave to donors in the spring was posted online -- just as polls show him narrowly trailing President Barack Obama.

"Here are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them," Romney said at the May fundraiser. "And so my job is not to worry about those people -- I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

Democrats quickly accused Romney of writing off half of the country. But he insisted he was just talking about the polls and trying to make the point that 47 percent of people will likely back Democratic President Barack Obama, no matter what their reasons.

Some Republicans grimaced, saying Romney's explanation underscored a key problem with his campaign: Romney is trying to do too much. These critics argue that Romney's job is to inspire voters, not manage every detail of his campaign.

"He was talking about the electorate as if it were a ledger sheet," said Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist who worked closely with Romney on his 2008 campaign. "It diminishes him."

More broadly, the episode illustrated Romney's leadership style -- honed over decades in the private sector, where he was an actual CEO -- and provided hints about how he might lead the country as president as he tried to balance two sets of duties: the ceremonial, symbolic and inspirational one with the nitty-gritty of running the country.

Romney spokesman Kevin Madden defended Romney's approach.

"It's his campaign," Madden said. "On a campaign like this, everything is derived from the candidate's vision, and the reason they are offering their leadership to the American people."

During three decades in private business, Romney made big money turning around struggling companies with hands-on leadership and a laser-like focus on the smallest details.

Romney insists all is well with his campaign despite enduring several rocky weeks and critics urging him to mount what could be his highest-stakes turnaround yet.

"It doesn't need a turnaround. We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States," Romney told "60 Minutes" for an interview set to air Sunday.

Like most presidential candidates, Romney keeps a close circle of aides and advisers that he relies on for counsel. These staffers describe campaign decision-making at the highest levels as collaborative, an ongoing discussion where top advisers have the opportunity to offer opinions to the candidate, who takes it all in. Romney does delegate responsibility, like tapping longtime aide Beth Myers to run his search for vice president.

But he also is directly involved with many aspects of his campaign. He likes to watch the TV ads before they go on the air. He personally reviewed running mate Paul Ryan's financial information before selecting him. He's rarely separated on the campaign trail from chief strategist Stuart Stevens; the two often spend hours conversing and poking at an iPad as the campaign's charter plane carries them between stops. And if Romney's not with Stevens, he's often calling him.

Then there's the political jargon Romney has adopted.

Why did Romney want support from the bombastic Donald Trump even though the real estate mogul pushed debunked theories about Obama's birth certificate?

"I need to get 50.1 percent or more and I'm appreciative to have the help of a lot of good people," Romney replied earlier this year.

Why wasn't he releasing more than two years of tax returns?

"In political environment that exists today, the opposition research of the Obama campaign is looking for anything they can use to distract from the failure of the president to reignite our economy," Romney said.

It's all too much for Peggy Noonan, a conservative columnist and former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, who last week wrote in her column: "The candidate can't run the show. He can't be the CEO of the campaign and be the candidate."

"The candidate is out there every day standing for things, fighting for a hearing, trying to get the American people to listen, agree and follow," Noonan wrote Friday. "The candidate cannot oversee strategy, statements, speechwriting, ads. He shouldn't be debating what statistic to put on slide 4 of the PowerPoint presentation."

Romney publicly shrugs off such talk. He also has embraced his CEO skills, saying he would use a hands-on model to govern the country and follow the example set by his father, George Romney, who served as governor of Michigan.

Former business colleagues say that's how Romney has operated his whole career.

As CEO of Bain Capital, Romney paid careful attention to the companies he invested in and often possessed a deep knowledge of the numeric requirements for success. Detail was what made Bain different from other private equity firms in the first place. Instead of just investing money, Bain would delve deep into each company, getting to know the ins and outs of its business almost better than the company itself did.

Bain Capital also carefully avoided what company veterans call "imponderables" -- enterprises where success hinged on doing something that couldn't really be estimated. A biotechnology firm working on a cancer cure, for example, could offer a high payoff -- but it was difficult to assess just how likely it was that the research would ever succeed. Instead, the companies were often old manufacturing enterprises or companies that sell everyday products.

Presidents have to solve those types of intractable problems.

"I've seen how the issues that come across a president's desk are always the hard ones," first lady Michelle Obama said recently. "The problems where no amount of data or numbers will get you to the right answer."

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Associated Press writer Phillip Elliott contributed to this report.

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