Mitt Romney and the Empty Field

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 26 2012 11:37 AM

Mitt Romney and the Empty Field

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- One thing you learn from hanging around with campaign "embeds" is the primacy of advance work. Some reporters, their backs and legs tested by the solidness of bus seats and the randomness of hotel beds, see everything that their candidates do. If an event looks small, they notice. It can be all they write about.

The Romney campaign, on the upswing again in Michigan, can't believe this crap. The candidate's big Friday economic speech was moved, with some initial fanfare, from a small room to the turf of Ford Field. Long-view pictures of the speech made it look ridiculous. The national media chewed on those photos, and Romney's "two cadillacs" line, and nothing else. It was the "Politico-ization" of media, one Romney adviser told me with a sigh; the press had abandoned substance reporting to temporarily become "Advance Man's Quarterly."

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I scanned local newspapers for next-day coverage of the big speech. The emptiness didn't make it in until after the jumps of stories. Point awared to Romney campaign: Voters getting their campaign coverage from local sources were, indeed, getting a version of the message. Economic growth! Raising the Medicare retirement age!

The press has not moved on. There was much discussion yesterday, after deadlines, about the size of the final Saturday Romney rally in Flint. The campaign booked the gym at Kettering University, one of those high-design structures with a quarter-mile track running around the second floor, overlooking the courts. The campaign only used one third of the gym, filling a basketball court-sized chunk of it, driving a couple dozen people into overflow space. This, my peers were sure, was the sort of thing that would cost Romney if he only managed to squeak past Santorum or -- egad -- if he lost the state he was born in. The campaign, surely, will have to sack someone to make up for the bad "optics." It sounded like a misdiagnosis to me. Barack Obama's 2008 campaign didn't have trouble packing rooms. The "optics" problem is just daily proof that Romney is looking to win this nomination without winning the giddy love of the GOP base.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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