“He's never going to be seen as ‘a regular guy,' and he shouldn't even try. He should try to emulate Franklin Roosevelt,” says Mark McKinnon, global vice chair at Hill+Knowlton Strategies and a former strategist for President George W. Bush. “Voters knew [Roosevelt] was rich, but they saw him as benevolent and willing to translate his own success through policies that create opportunity for everyone.”
Romney's strength is his experience as a chief executive who has created jobs in both the private and public sectors. However, in trying to appeal to the far right on social issues, “he's been positioned as an out-of-touch elitist willing to say anything to conservatives to get elected,” McKinnon adds.
This strategy has turned off various groups, including crucial independent voters. The former Massachusetts governor has a 32% favorability rating among this demographic, 16 points lower than the 48% of independents who see him in an unfavorable light, according to a Washington Post/ABC News poll released March 6.
“He has to start thinking about the general election. He can't keep getting sidetracked by the far right,” says Malizy Scruggs, SVP of multicultural and public participation at Open Channels Group. “He needs to distance or outright disagree with members of his party to reach independent voters who will decide the general election.”
To fix his communications issues, Romney should focus on two basic messages: that he is the most electable GOP candidate in a general election contest against President Barack Obama and that he can fix the economy, explains Lance Morgan, chief communications strategist at Powell Tate and a one-time spokesperson to former US Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY).
“To the extent that he delineates from those two messages, he doesn't accomplish very much,” he says. Morgan adds that it will be a balancing act for Romney to embrace his general election strategy and not take for granted the states where voting must still occur.
Brendan Daly, EVP and national director of public affairs at Ogilvy Washington and a former communications director for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, agrees that now is the time for Romney to focus on the general election. He notes that once a candidate has gained a substantial delegate lead, it is very difficult for his rivals to catch up.
CNN estimates that Romney has accumulated 404 delegates to 165 for former US Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA), 106 for former House Speaker New Gingrich, and 66 for US Rep. Ron Paul (R-PA) in all primaries and caucuses held to date. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the GOP nomination.
To build confidence among voters, Romney must also work harder to avoid the gaffes that have plagued his campaign, Daly explains. “You would think he would get better - Obama got better during the primaries - but Romney doesn't seem to be,” he says.
Romney's team must also improve its use of digital and social media tools. When Obama launched his online campaign before the 2008 election, he successfully built a grassroots movement using digital media. Romney appears to have put less emphasis on digital, notes Heidi Nel, VP, marketing and public affairs at FitzGibbon Media.
While Romney has “checked all of the boxes” by using social media mainstays like Twitter and Facebook, his strategy in how he uses the social platforms is lacking.
“Currency on the Internet and within social networks is authenticity, listening, not just using the platform as yet another distribution channel to talk at people,” Nel says. “What he should do more of is get real, be authentic, and get committed to and interested in hearing what Americans have to say and then listening to them.”